Friday Prayer Leader: Farmers in Iran’s Drought-Ridden Isfahan Province Don’t Have the Right to Protest
“As someone who has always been on the farmers’ side, I don’t think they have the right to demonstrate,” said Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabaeinejad during a Friday prayer sermon in Isfahan on April 13.
“Religious and revolutionary farmers would not do such a thing,” he added. “They should separate themselves from seditious elements.”
The comments came as a blow to farmers in Iran’s Isfahan Province who continued protests against the government’s water policies by holding a rally in the capital city of Isfahan on April 13, 2018.
According to the Iran Meteorological Organization, around 97 percent of the country is experiencing drought to some degree.
But farmers in Isfahan have argued that the drought has been exacerbated by government mismanagement and because water has been diverted from the province’s main river to neighboring Yazd Province.
In a video clip posted on YouTube on April 14, a farmer complains about the province’s crippling water shortage problem: “I’m standing by the Zayanderud River near Hovieh village. There used to be a lot of water here but now it’s dry… We have no water and our wells have dried up because of mismanagement… If the officials in charge of water management in the province had acted properly, we would not have had this problem today.”
“Moreover, our water is being re-directed to Yazd Province, where factory owners should have thought about the lack of water first before building their plants,” he added.
During the April 13 protests in the east of the capital near Khorasegan Sq.—the fifth since mid-March—the demonstrators, including many women, chanted “farmers will give their life before accepting humiliation,” “death to the government that deceives the people” and “the enemy is right here; they’re lying when they say he’s in America.”
A video posted on Twitter on April 13 shows a heavy security presence equipped with water cannons at the protest in Isfahan. Using a loudspeaker, one person claims that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been tough on government corruption but the crowd refuses to quiet down.
On March 18, Judiciary Spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei warned farmers not to get mixed up with “opportunists” and on April 11, a police chief told protesters that “anyone who chants slogans about anything other than water is a hypocrite.”
The word “hypocrite” is often used by Iranian officials to describe members of the outlawed Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an organization based outside the country that advocates for regime change in Iran.
At a protest earlier this month, people chanted “innocent farmers must be freed” but officials have not announced how many people have been arrested.
On April 13, Isfahan’s Governor General Mohsen Alizadeh described the water situation as “crippling” and warned the province’s 5.2 million inhabitants that they could face more water shortages in the upcoming hot summer months.
On April 9, the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported that 300,000 farmers in the province had suffered substantial profit losses due to water shortages.
For the past several years, the government has failed to allocate the 400 million cubic meters of water per year for farming that was promised to the province. As a result, only about 40 percent of farmland has been cultivated in the province, according to ISNA.
The ISNA report did not specify whether it was referring to the provincial or state government.
Farmers in Isfahan are also angry that the government has not honored a pledge to compensate them for their lost income. On March 20, the province’s governor general claimed that 37.6 billion rials (approximately $8.9 million USD) had been paid out to 27,600 farming families.
Journalist and former political prisoner Mahsa Amrabadi tweeted on April 12 that all sectors of Iranian society, from students to teachers, to farmers have been imprisoned for protesting against state policies, adding, “The circle is getting constantly wider and will eventually swallow us all.”