The Uprising of the Thirsty; An Analysis of the 2021 Khuzestan Protests

The July 2021 Iranian protests were a continuation of protests that have been erupting sporadically since 2016.

The driving force behind the July/August uprising was to protest the perennial water shortages and rolling blackouts stemming from mismanagement of resources, fueling public anger. The latest round of protests erupted on 15 July, starting in Khuzestan soon spreading to other provinces including Isfahan, Lorestan, Eastern Azerbaijan, Tehran, and Karaj. These protests have been coined the ‘Uprising of the Thirsty’.

As nearly 5 million Iranians in Khuzestan are lacking access to clean drinking water, Iran is failing to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to water, which is inextricably linked to the right to the highest attainable standard of health; both are protected by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESR), to which Iran is a signatory. It is a common cause that Iran’s water crisis has reached a critical point. Even the regime’s state-run media have acknowledged the dire situation, with at least 700 villages out of water.

According to the state-run Aftab News on July 4, 2021, “Of Iran’s population of 85 million, about 28 million live in areas with water shortages and are under pressure in this regard, mainly in the central and southern regions of the country. Water shortages have affected all sections of society, from urban households to agricultural and rural communities.”

It did not take long for the protests to take on a political character, with protesters in various cities calling for the end of the current regime and expanding the subject matter of their protests from water shortages to deteriorating living conditions.

One protester told HRA, “My ideal outcome is to see a regime official resign in response to our suffering. We are tired of all of this misery, poverty, dehydration, neglect, lies, and empty promises.

A protester living in Tehran told HRA, “Besides supporting [the people of] Khuzestan, we are protesting unemployment, high prices, poverty, and the existing problems in the country. We can no longer bear the hardships of life created by unworthy officials. The authorities must address the problems…

In the two weeks of the uprising, Human Rights Activists (HRA) verified 129 videos documenting the protests, 361 arrests, 6 deaths, and several more wounded. HRA’s Spreading Justice team (HRA-SJ) additionally identified individual violators associated with the violent crackdown. The following report analyses the events that occurred as a result of the uprising, those responsible, and concludes with a call for accountability noting that without action, this cycle of abuse will only continue.

Read the full report here.

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For further inquiries please contact Skylar Thompson, Senior Advocacy Coordinator Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA) at [email protected]

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