November 20, 2019
Iran says its security forces have arrested several dual nationals in Karaj near Tehran during anti-government demonstrations that were triggered by a gas price hike on Friday November 15.
The announcement plays into the hands of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani who have said U.S., Israel and “some regional reactionary states”.
During the post-election unrest in 2009 Iran arrested some dual nationals and Iranian staff members of European embassies to prove Khamenei’s conspiracy theory about foreigners’ involvement in the protests. The detainees, including a British Embassy staff member and a Newsweek journalist were even forced to make self-incriminating confessions.
The dual nationals arrested in Karaj in Alborz Province reportedly carried German and Turkish passports, a normal occurrence in a city frequented by transit truck drivers. However, the officials claimed without showing any evidence that they had equipment to be used for sabotage.
Meanwhile, the Iranian state TV showed for the first time some selective footage of demonstrations in various cities including the capital Tehran and dismissed reports about at least 106 being killed by security forces as “speculative, not reliable” unless confirmed by Tehran.
Rouhani said on the state TV that “The Iranian people have again succeeded in an historic test and shown they will not let enemies benefit from the situation, even though they might have complaints about the country’s management,” as if he was speaking about a war against the people.
In another development the spokesperson for the Rouhani administration Ali Rabiei said a plot to bomb Iran’s major gas production installations in Assalouyeh on the Gulf had been thwarted, blaming it on protesters, the semi-official news agency Mehr reported.
The government has cut off more than 95 percent of the internet connection to stop people from sending videos of the unrest to foreign based media. Rabiei claimed that after the internet connection is restored, the media might show videos from Yemen and Syria to pretend that the Iranian government has treated demonstrators violently.
A former intelligence operative, Rabiei probably knows more about such violence by security forces and fears scenes of it might be aired on satellite TV from abroad.
According to Reuters, “Frustration has grown over a weakening currency and rising prices for bread, rice and other staples since the United States withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers and re-imposed sanctions” on Tehran.
The gas price hike that triggered the latest round of unrest was probably the last bit of backbreaking economic pressure on low-income Iranians. However, demonstrations in various Iranian cities quickly turned into political unrest by people who say they do not want anything less than an end to clerical rule in Iran.
Although the government has said the price rises were intended to raise around $2.55 billion a year for extra subsidies to 18 million families struggling on low incomes, the nation does not seem to have been convinced because of the long-standing distrust between the people and the government following revelations about family members of officials, including Rouhani’s brother, involved in financial corruption.