Iranian security forces and anti-riot police would not allow football fans to gather and used batons and shockers to disperse them. (Supplied)

July 31, 2021

After a fifth successive win in Iran’s Persian Gulf Pro League Friday evening, fans of Iran’s Persepolis football team took to the streets in several areas of the east and west of the capital Tehran, and some other cities, to celebrate. In Tehran and several other cities including Kermanshah, Arak, Nasim Shahr, and Golestan crowds chanted slogans against the Islamic Republic, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and clerical rule despite the security forces’ attempts to disperse them.

The success Friday evening secured Persepolis a place in next year’s AFC Champions League organized by the Asian Football Confederation. In similar circumstances in the past, such as Persepolis’ win against Saudi Arabia’s Al-Nasr Riyadh in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League in Doha in October 2020, huge crowds of Persepolis fans celebrated on the streets of Tehran and some other cities without interference from security forces. No violence or vandalism was reported.

This time, however, in many places security forces and anti-riot police would not allow football fans to gather and used batons and shockers to disperse them. Authorities were apparently concerned that any gathering could turn into anti-government protests.

There have been dozens of large and small anti-government protests in Iranian cities since July 15 when people took to the streets in the oil-rich, largely Arab southwestern province (link is external) of Khuzestan to protest water shortages. Security forces have suppressed the protests in most cases and used lethal force despite little evidence of protester violence and arrested at least 100 protesters. At least ten people were killed, including a policeman.

In Nasim Shahr, a city south of Tehran with a population of around 140,000, anti-riot police drove on motorcycles into the crowd to disperse them. The crowd chanted “scoundrels” against them. In Qom, Iran’s seventh-largest city with a population of over 1.2 million, police also did not allow football fans to celebrate. The narrator of a video posted by Iran International on social media (link is external), which purportedly shows security forces chasing the crowd on motorcycles to disperse them in Qom, said police used batons and shockers to disperse people who were celebrating the football win.

“For the smallest problem [security forces] respond with batons, shockers, and [swarms of] motorcyclists driving into the crowd to disperse them,” journalist Hamid Asefi in Tehran told Iran International TV Saturday (link is external). Asefi warned that Iranians had reached “the threshold of breakdown of fear of retribution” and said there would be a massive anti-regime movement if it fails to understand the importance of the loss of fear of suppression and continues to respond to protesters in the same manner.

Videos on social media show similar circumstances in other places such as Babol in the Caspian Sea area, where security forces blocked the roads to the city to prevent people from entering, and Mashhad where police used force to disperse the crowds. Other videos show security forces attacking football fans (link is external) and protesters chanting “Death to the Dictator” in Arak. In Golestan, a city to the south of Tehran people chanted (link is external) “Clerics Must Get Lost,” “So Many Years of Murder, Death to Clerical Rule,” and “May Your Soul Rest in Peace Reza Shah,” a reference to the monarch who launched Iran’s modernization.  Reza Shah Pahlavi who cracked down on the influence of clerics and introduced modern education and industry bringing Iran into the 20th century was forced by the British to abdicate in 1941.

Iran International

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.