A spate of violent antigovernment demonstrations have rocked Iran in recent months, challenging the clerical establishment that has forbidden public dissent and has a history of cracking down harshly on unauthorized protests.
Iranian citizens have demanded that their constitutional right to hold peaceful demonstrations be upheld, after tens of thousands of Iranians marched in scores of cities and towns across the Islamic republic in December and January. The authorities crushed those protests, leaving at least 25 dead.
In a move intended to placate protesters, the government on June 11 approved a proposal by the Tehran City Council to designate 12 specific locations where authorized protests can be held in the capital. The initiative, however, is widely seen as an attempt by the government to control such protests.
The protest zones in Tehran include the Shiroudi, Dastjerdi, Takhti, Motamedi, and Azadi sports stadiums; the Goftegoo, Taleqani, Velayat, Pardisan, Honarmandan, and Shahr public parks; and an area near the parliament building in the capital’s Baharestan neighborhood, according to Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency.
The government said it was working with city councils across Iran to designate protest zones.
Article 27 of the country’s constitution stipulates that citizens have the right to hold assemblies, “provided arms are not carried” and that the assemblies “are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.”
But in practice, it is almost impossible to obtain permits for protest gatherings or rallies, with authorities imposing complicated requirements.
The hard-line conservative daily Kayhan criticized the initiative in a front-page editorial on June 12 that said “the government’s responsibility is to solve people’s problems, not designate spots for gatherings.”
“Is the government aware of people’s problems? If they solved them, there would be no need for public gatherings,” Kayhan added.
The reformist daily Etemad on June 12 published on its front page a map of Tehran showing the approved protest zones and said they were necessary to avoid violence and disruption to residents.
“The unrest in late January and the widespread popular demands throughout the country during recent months have led to a decision to facilitate the holding of protest gatherings, while emphasizing the recognition of people’s right to protest,” Etemad said in an editorial.
Since December, Iranians have staged dozens of marches and demonstrations in cities and towns across the Islamic republic, protesting against rising unemployment and demanding greater social and political freedoms, and making calls for President Hassan Rohani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.
In December, Rohani said “people are absolutely free to criticize the government and protest, but their protests should be in such a way as to improve the situation in the country and their life,” adding that “criticism is different from violence and damaging public properties.”
Despite Rohani’s assurances, authorities have since cracked down on protesters and detained those openly critical of the clerical establishment.
In May, several people were killed after residents of the city of Kazeroon protested a local government decision to split the city into two.
In March, several women who attempted to stage a protest in Tehran to mark International Women’s Day were detained.
In February, Iranian security officers arrested dozens of women who protested in Tehran against the compulsory hijab by removing their head scarves in public.