Protests erupted in about 100 cities and towns across Iran on Friday after its government announced that the price of petrol was expected to increase by 50%. The petrol price hike is just one of the setbacks Iran has had to face since the Trump administration’s decisions to withdraw from the nuclear deal between the United States and Iran and to impose sanctions that have severely affected Iran’s economy. According to the BBC, the government of Iran has confirmed that 12 demonstrators have been killed, however activists who’ve witnessed the violence first-hand claim that the death toll must be at least 40.
Since the U.S. sanctions were first initiated earlier this year, Iran’s economy experienced heavy setbacks which included the collapse of oil exports, the loss of value to Iran’s national currency, a 50% rise of inflation and the loss of jobs. The sanctions also triggered savings being held in banks to evaporate, as reported by the Associated Press. Higher petrol prices seemed to be the final straw for the citizens of Iran, a country that’s known for its historically cheap gasoline when compared internationally.
The increase in petrol prices came as a result of “Iran’s inability to export its crude oil abroad,” according to a report by the Associated Press on Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s response to the protests. President Rouhani also claimed that the price hike was imposed with public interest in mind. BBC reported that the money raised by this 50% increase would be used help provide for the country’s less fortunate.
Besides high petrol prices, the U.S. sanctions were also found to be affecting Iran’s ability to receive medicine and medical supplies. The Human Rights Watch organization reported that “board restrictions have drastically constrained the ability of Iranian entities to finance humanitarian imports, including vital medicines and medical equipment.” Although the sanctions are meant to exempt humanitarian imports, the exemption doesn’t account for the “strong reluctance of U.S. and European companies and banks to risk incurring sanctions and legal action by exporting or financing exempted humanitarian goods.” The Human Rights Watch report on how the U.S. sanctions have harmed the well-being of Iranian citizens includes examples of specific incidents where humanitarian aid is crucially needed. For example, the report describes how people with rare diseases or with conditions that require specialized attention, such as leukemia and epilepsy, were no longer able to receive the treatment needed to lessen the severity of their conditions.
Another major consequence of Iran’s now broken economy resulting in deadly protests is Iran’s internet shutdown. According to the BBC, Iran’s National Security Council ordered providers to cut off internet access after documentation of the protests was posted on social media. The Associated Press reported that before the shutdown commenced the Saturday after protests began, videos circulated online that included graphic images of wounded demonstrators and sounds of gunfire. Civilians were then limited to the “intranet,” which allowed only for specific websites to be accessed. Because of the dangerous conditions of the protests, schools across Iran have been shut down as well.
Both the United States and the Iranian government have made decisions where only civilians suffer as a result. Although America’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and to oppose sanctions was based on conflict in international relations, the civilians of Iran are stuck facing the consequences. There were many factors leading up to the rise of petrol prices, where civilians had no other choice than to demonstrate their opposition against the decisions made by Iran’s government. Shutting down internet access as well as putting civilians in a position where their livelihoods are on the line because of inability to access medicine is a major cause for concern and should be garnering more attention from human rights organizations worldwide as it did with Human Rights Watch. Although government officials like United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and organizations like the United Nations called for Iran to allow full access to the internet, more should be done for the citizens of Iran who will continue to suffer the consequences of these decisions long after the protests have settled.
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