How many districts are there in Balochistan?

Riots and executions in Iran's southeast province

"A delegation of MPs will travel to Saravan this Saturday to deal with the situation on the ground," said MP Hassan Hemati in the Iranian media. Hemati is a member of the Parliament's Security Committee and will lead the delegation to the south-eastern provinces of Sistan and Balochistan. They wanted to know what had happened in the city of Saravan, with around 60,000 inhabitants.

Since last Monday there have been reports of violent clashes between residents of the city and security forces. The armed forces had fired fuel smugglers at the crossing of the border with Pakistan on Monday. According to citizen journalists on social networks, at least nine people are said to have been killed. Thereupon relatives and friends of those killed stormed the governor's office.

A police car was set on fire. Videos show security guards responding with live ammunition. Several people, including a 12-year-old boy, are said to have been shot.

Suspended and isolated region

Journalists on site do not want to talk to foreign colleagues. They are afraid of being accused and arrested as agents of foreign powers. Reports of further unrest in other cities in the province have not been officially confirmed.

The Internet in Sistan and Balochistan is currently severely disrupted. In some cities such as Sahedan, Khash and Sarvan, the Internet was sometimes completely switched off. The authorities' fear of a new wave of protests seems to be great.

The province is one of the poorest in Iran. In many villages there are no schools, no electricity and no regular drinking water supply. Women and girls get water from the swamps, because of the persistent drought, other water sources are practically unavailable. There have been repeated reports of swamp crocodile attacks on little girls while fetching water.

There are repeated reports of swamp crocodiles attacking little girls while fetching water

The influential Sunni Friday preacher Abdolhamid Molavi had urged the people in the province to remain calm and not take part in protests. In an open letter to the government, he also sharply criticized the use of the security forces. "The authorities know that fuel smuggling is the only source of income for thousands of families in Sistan and Balochistan."

Fuel smuggling out of necessity

Fuels are subsidized in Iran, truck diesel is particularly cheap: the equivalent of eight cents per liter. Because of the pandemic, truck drivers currently have fewer jobs. They fill up with diesel and sell it to fuel smugglers. In Pakistan the price is eight times higher.

"Unemployment is around 60 percent. The infrastructure is weak; there is hardly any government investment to combat poverty," said Nasser Boladai, a well-connected political activist from Balochistan, in an interview with DW.

Baluch are native to Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan

Boladai is general secretary of the "Balochistan Peopleā€˜s Party" founded abroad and lives in exile in Sweden. "The Baluch have no human rights in Iran. They are suppressed and hardly anyone is interested in us."

Mistrust of Sunni border residents

Almost three million of the total of 82 Iranians live in Sistan and Balochistan. Most of the residents are Baluch; a people that is native to Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The influence and cohesion of the Sunni tribes along the almost 2,000-kilometer border with both neighboring countries displeases the central government in Shiite Iran.

"It's nothing new," adds Bolidehi with resignation. "Before the Islamic revolution of 1979 we also had problems. There were even plans to relocate the Baluch to other provinces in the center of the country. We are systematically suppressed and any kind of protest is quickly portrayed as a threat to the national security of Iranian society . "

According to Amnesty International, at least 18 Baluch have been executed since mid-December. They are said to have been members of separatist groups and criminals. During the riots in the city of Saravan, the authorities first claimed that armed opponents of the government stormed into the provincial governor's office.

Now they feign understanding. The protesters were families of the victims, admits Saeed Tadschlili, the city's governor. Speaking to the Iranian media on Wednesday, he denied that there had been violent clashes between security forces and residents of the city and that everything was under control. The city's MP, Malek Faslie, advocates understanding for people's anger. There is no credible plan for combating extreme poverty.