Over the weekend, protests have rocked Iran after a steep hike in fuel prices ignited public anger. According to Iranian authorities, the official death toll in the violence had risen to at least three on Sunday. Some reports put the toll much higher, up to 36.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called those taking part in violence as “thugs”, and has hinted at a potential crackdown. The country has shut off Internet access to its 8 crore people.
On Friday, the Iranian government announced an increase in the price of petrol from 10,000 rials per litre (INR 17/litre) to 15,000 rials per litre (INR 25.5/litre) for the first 60 litres, and to 30,000 rials (INR 51/litre) for any extra fuel bought after that each month, AFP reported.
The hike in fuel prices by 50% has been greatly resented, given that Iran has the fourth-largest crude oil reserves in the world, and petrol has remained cheap despite economic troubles since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In recent times, Iran’s economy has been badly impacted by the imposition of sanctions by the United States in 2018 after the latter withdrew from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal.
The JCPOA was a deal struck in 2015 by Iran and six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US, under which Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for relief from US and other economic sanctions.
Since the announcement of Friday, the protests have reached up to 100 cities in the country, and the number of protesters is estimated to have exceeded 87,000.
Petrol pumps and banks have been attacked, and demonstrators have abandoned cars along major highways. Some 1000 have been arrested, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
Supreme Leader Khamenei has blamed forces aligned with the family of Iran’s ex-monarch Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and the militant group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq for the protests.
Pahlavi, now dead, was ousted from Iran in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution toppled his government. The Trump administration was also blamed, which has called the unrest “peaceful protests against the (Iranian) regime”.
The fuel hike decision is a major political risk taken by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who faces reelection in February next year.