Al-Arabia – Protests broke out in the city of Tabriz in northwest Iran on Saturday in support of ongoing demonstrations southwest of the country, videos posted on social media showed.
Protests sparked by a water crisis have been taking place in Iran since July 15.
The demonstrations were initially concentrated in Arab majority areas in the oil-rich southwestern Khuzestan province, where ethnic Arabs have long complained of discrimination in Iran. But they have since spread to more cities in Khuzestan, as well as to other parts of the country.
Protesters took the streets in Tabriz, the provincial capital of the northwestern East Azerbaijan province, to express support for protesters in Khuzestan on Saturday, according to activists and footage circulating on social media.
There was heavy security presence during the protests in Tabriz and at least three citizens were arrested, reported the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), a news site run by a group of Iranian human rights advocates, on Sunday.
Chants in Tabriz included “Azerbaijan supports Khuzestan” and “Azerbaijan, Ahwaz, unity, unity,” according to the videos shared on social media. Ahwaz is the provincial capital of Khuzestan.MIDDLE EASTProtestsIran rejects UN rights chief’s ‘false accusations’ over water protests
Some of the chants heard in the videos were in the Azeri Turkish language. Iran’s three northwestern provinces – Ardabil, East Azerbaijan, and West Azerbaijan – have a predominantly ethnic Azeri population.
In one video, protesters can be seen chanting for security forces to support their demonstrations. The same security forces responded by attacking protesters, causing the crowd to chant against them.
Al Arabiya English could not independently verify the videos’ authenticity.
Protests in solidarity with Khuzestan had also broken out late on Thursday in the neighbouring western province of Lorestan. Demonstrators in Lorestan’s city of Aligudarz chanted slogans against Iran’s highest authority, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, a video shared on social media showed.
Iran has so far confirmed the death of five people, including a police officer, in violence connected to the rallies. Iranian officials have blamed unknown “rioters” for the deaths.
Activists reject the official narrative and maintain the deaths were caused by security forces opening fire on protesters. Iranian officials, who typically use the term “rioters” to refer to protesters, have blamed them for the deaths in the past.
HRANA said on Saturday that it had been able to identify 10 killed and 102 detained in connection with the protests in Khuzestan.
Amnesty International said on Friday security forces had killed at least eight protesters and bystanders in Khuzestan since protests erupted in the province on July 15.
In his first comments on the protests, Khamenei said on Friday protesters cannot be blamed and called on officials to deal with the water shortages.
Authorities have blamed the water shortages on a severe drought, but protesters in Khuzestan say government corruption and mismanagement, as well as “discriminatory” policies aimed at changing the region’s demography, are to blame.
The rallies come as thousands of workers in Iran’s key energy sector have launched strikes for better wages and working conditions.
Iran’s economy has been hit hard since 2018 when former US President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and reimposed sweeping sanctions on the country. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the country’s economic problems.