Two young men were shot dead on a second night of protests over water shortages in southwest Iran.
Iran faces its worst drought in 50 years, with protests erupting in several towns and villages in Khuzestan province over the water crisis, which has affected households, devastated agriculture and the breeding and leads to blackouts.
The deadly incidents occurred in the town of Shadegan in Khuzestan on Friday.
Omid Sabripour, the county’s acting governor, speaking to IRNA on Saturday, blamed the first death on “opportunists and rioters”.
“During the rally, rioters fired in the air to provoke the population, but unfortunately one of the bullets hit a person present at the scene and killed them,” he said.
In separate comments to the ISNA news agency, Sabripour said the shots were aimed at both protesters and security forces.
He added that the victim was a “30-year-old passer-by” and those responsible have been identified.
A second man was later reportedly killed during the protests.
The victim’s father
Iranian media released a video of the father of the first victim, Mostafa Naimawi, who said his son was shot dead by rioters and not by government security forces.
“My son was not a troublemaker and had nothing to do with the riots and unrest,” said the father, who was not identified by name, in Arabic on the video which provided a translation into Farsi.
The second victim has been identified as Ghasem Khozeiri, an 18-year-old man. State media published an interview with his family, in which his uncle, whose name has not been identified, said Khozeiri was returning from work at night when he was shot and later died of the aftermath of his injuries.
“He managed to get home while he was all bloodiedâ¦ he couldn’t tell who his attacker was,” his uncle said.
Videos posted on social media showed protesters setting tires on fire to block roads and security forces trying to disperse the crowds as gunshots were heard.
During some demonstrations, people expressed their anger at Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, chanting “Death to the dictator” and “Death to Khamenei”.
Some were arrested Friday evening, with a manhunt on the rest.
Earlier this month, President Hassan Rouhani said the drought was “unprecedented”, with average rainfall down 52% from the previous year.
Khuzestan MP Abdollah Izadpanah warned on Friday that “Khuzestan’s insecurity means a lack of security for the whole country”.
He blamed the water shortages on “mistakes and unwarranted decisions” such as extracting water from rivers in Khuzestan to other provinces, ISNA reported.
The government, the judiciary and President-elect Ebrahim Raisi said they were dealing with the water shortage problem and the government sent a delegation to the province on Friday to remedy the situation.
This month, gradual blackouts began in the capital, Tehran, and several other major cities, which officials blamed on the effects of the drought on hydropower production, as well as the increased demand.
Power cuts during the most intense summer months are not uncommon in Iran, but the persistent drought has made matters worse.
Khuzestan is home to a large Sunni Arab minority, which has often complained of being marginalized in a predominantly Shia Iran.
In 2019, the province was a hotbed of anti-government protests that rocked other parts of the Islamic Republic.
Over the years, scorching summer heatwaves and seasonal sandstorms from Saudi Arabia and neighboring Iraq have drained the once fertile plains of Khuzestan.
Scientists say climate change amplifies droughts, and their intensity and frequency, in turn, threatens food security.
The country is also facing a fifth wave of COVID infections after the Delta variant began to spread in the southern provinces and is now nationally dominant.