March 1, 2021
Iranian lawmakers on Monday visited an impoverished southeastern province that has been roiled by recent unrest, state-run media reported, the government’s most visible step yet to address rising popular resentment in the region.
Five members of parliament, including from the influential committee for national security and foreign policy, arrived in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan to investigate the turmoil, state-run IRNA news agency reported.
Last week, border guards shot at fuel smugglers trying to cross into Iran from Pakistan, killing at least two and sparking protests across the city of Saravan. Demonstrators stormed a local governor’s building and police station, clashing with security forces. Some even descended on a checkpoint armed with grenade launchers, according to the governor, killing one officer.
While information about the unrest in the remote region remains sensitive and difficult to verify, the official parliamentary visit signaled that the matter is serious for Tehran. A day before, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported that the country’s police chief dismissed and replaced the local provincial police commander, an unexplained move that pointed to rising tensions over authorities’ response to the protests.
Malek Mohammad Fazeli, the Saravan parliamentary representative, told IRNA that lawmakers will visit “incident areas” in Saravan and hold meetings with residents, without elaborating.
For several days last week the province reportedly experienced wide disruptions of access to mobile data, in what rights groups and experts described as a government attempt to cripple protesters’ key tool of communication. Iran has previously cut off access to the internet in tense times, such as during a wave of nationwide protests in 2019, when a government crackdown reportedly killed hundreds.
The relationship between the province’s predominantly Sunni residents and Iran’s Shiite theocracy has long been fraught. Also, in Sistan and Baluchestan there are occasional clashes between Iranian forces and militants, drug traffickers and small separatist groups.