By Hamid Enayat
Amnesty International released a statement following the massacre in Saravan, a city in Iran’s Baluchistan province. They stated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps had illegally used lethal force against a group of unarmed fuel porters on February 22 near the city of Saravan in Sistan and Baluchistan Province. Thus, the IRGC has grossly violated the principle of “prohibition of unlawful deprivation of the right to life” in international law.
The testimony of eyewitnesses and the victims’ families, along with video footage verified by Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Laboratory, show the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officers stationed at the Shamsar military checkpoint opened fire with firearms on unarmed fuel porters. These actions killed and wounded several people. These porters belonged to the oppressed Baluch minority.
“Iranian security forces opened fire on a group of unarmed individuals, committing brutal disregard for human lives,” said Diana Al-Tahawi, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The story of Saravan
The story of Saravan began on Monday, February 22, the day it was reported that a number of Baluch fuel porters who were trying to cross the border from Saravan to Pakistan were shot dead by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forces. However, a day later, in response to widespread public reaction to what happened in Saravan, the Deputy Governor of Sistan and Baluchistan blamed the initial shooting on Pakistani border guards.
After the Revolutionary Guards tried to block Baluch fuel porters’ movement by creating obstacles and digging large holes, which was met with widespread protest by the fuel porters, clashes ensued. At the Askan border point, the Revolutionary Guards opened fire on the fuel porters and the people who came to their aid. To counter the protesting fuel porters, the IRGC took the border guards, known as Mersad, to the scene in full equipment with dozens of vehicles and opened fire on the people with the tank installed automatic heavy guns.
40 killed and more than 100 injured
More than 40 people were killed, and more than 100 were injured in the clashes in the first two days. Meanwhile, by cutting off the Internet or seriously disrupting it in different cities of the province, including Zahedan and Saravan, the mullahs’ regime tried to prevent the leak of news of widespread protests and expose the regime’s criminal actions in this region. When the Internet in the area was cut off, the situation took on a new color and flavor. The ignorance of the citizens of this area added to the concerns about what might have happened. Meanwhile, Shamsabadi, the regime’s prosecutor in Sistan and Baluchistan, blamed the killing of Saravan youths and fuel porters on them. He said that the shooting was caused by “enemies hiding under the cover of the fuel porters. The regime’s enemies intend to inflame the calm situation of the province by any means.” (Mashreq News, February 25, 2021).
Anger and Uprising
On February 24, Baluch rebellious youths captured Revolutionary Guards bases in Korin and Qaleh Bid. Zahedan Governor Nakhaei said: “Evil elements attacked this checkpoint with light weapons and grenade launchers under the pretext of supporting the fake deaths of Shamsar Saravan checkpoint in order to seize Korin and Qaleh Bid checkpoints ” (ISNA, February 25, 2021).
Following the uprising in Sistan and Baluchistan, insurgent youths set fire to the Revolutionary Guards headquarters in Soran on Thursday night. The insurgent youths blocked the Revolutionary Guards’ entrance to the city by burning tires, and the fighting with the Revolutionary Guards continued in different parts of the city for hours.
Meanwhile, Marashi, the security and law enforcement deputy governor of Sistan and Baluchistan, claimed that “Sistan and Baluchistan are in a stable state in terms of security and the provinces’ cities are in complete peace.” He described the widespread protests as rumors and said that “after what happened in Saravan, some people rode a wave, and some people attacked the checkpoint in Korin and Qaleh Bid. It is clear that these were not popular groups and were from the Mojahedin (sworn enemies of the Iranian regime). In what happened, the counter-revolutionary groups caught fish from the muddy water and supported this case in order to destabilize the situation in the province.” (ILNA, February 25, 2021)
The roots of the uprising
In recent years, along with the increase in foreign exchange rates, fuel smuggling dimensions have increased day by day. The country’s eastern borders, especially in Sistan and Baluchistan province and the country’s water borders, are significant fuel centers for smuggling abroad, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, the southern Persian Gulf, and even beyond, to the Red Sea and African countries. The noticeable difference in fuel prices inside and outside the country is one of the most important reasons for fuel smuggling. The price difference between home and abroad is sometimes between seven and 20 times. This high price difference causes some groups to turn to fuel smuggling. Of course, a distinction must be made between fuel smuggling and fuel porters; The first is a sign of corruption at the national level, and fuel porting is a sign of poverty and hardship and the hard work of some for bread.
With more than 1,500 km of land and water border, Sistan and Baluchistan province is one of the leading provinces targeted by fuel smugglers. Some unofficial estimates indicate the daily smuggling of 10 to 15 million liters of fuel in the province. However, some authorities have increased this figure to 20 million liters. The very high and significant volume of fuel smuggling in Sistan and Baluchistan province indicates smuggled fuel from all parts of the country into this province. In other words, the province’s capacity is not enough to supply this volume of smuggled fuel, and this large volume of fuel is smuggled to this province through transfers from other provinces of the country. Sistan and Baluchistan province is an inverted funnel whose open mouth is other neighboring provinces and other parts of the country where fuel is loaded and brought to Sistan and Baluchistan’s borders. These characteristics lead to the belief that even among the locals, a mafia in fuel smuggling makes huge profits from smuggling. Cafe Baluchi village in Sarbaz city is one of the major centers for storing and loading smuggled fuel. Cafe Baluchi in that area is known as OPEC of Iran.
Razzaq plan, the monopoly of the Revolutionary Guards
According to a local official in Saravan, the IRGC seeks total control of fuel transfers to Pakistan through Razzaq. It has made the lives of the poor people of the region even more difficult. When we consider Pakistan’s daily requirement for diesel imported from Iran, 5 million liters, the issue’s economic dimensions and its importance for the IRGC become clearer! However, this military-economic entity is openly and practically involved in fuel smuggling and does not tolerate any competition, however minor (Radio Farda Telegram). In an interview with Radio Farda, Habibullah Sarbazi, a Baluch activist, said that the Revolutionary Guards currently controlled 70 percent of fuel sales but wanted to control the remaining 30 percent, which was done by Baluch fuel porters, with the Razzaq plan. (Radio Farda, March 1) The IRGC wants to pay part of its expenses in funding its militias in the region by monopolizing fuel.
Baluchistan firewood ready to ignite
In this province in the 21st century, to imagine the nineteenth century is perhaps a complicated and intangible thing. But observations suggest that the region may be more than 150 years behind. Description of today’s children of the corner of Iran’s easternmost geography expresses the suffering and oppression of this ethnic minority. You can see many naked, barefoot, pale children with worn-out clothes next to a ruin in this land, which is a place of accumulation of garbage to find dry bread.
The recent incident on the Shamsar Saravan border in Sistan and Baluchistan province showed that this impoverished province is poised to increase protests and actions against the regime due to the deep class gap. What quickly spread the scope of this widespread unrest throughout Balochistan, and poured gasoline on the fire, was the deprivation of the whole province of all the simple necessities of life, such as water, roads, education and employment, health, etc. Undoubtedly, this distance and discrimination cause a big explosion.