The ‘Uprising of Thirst’ in Mohammarah and Abadan: the causes, facts and consequences

The right to water and sanitation is so fundamental for human being that when a state denies access to clean water to people, in principle the concerned state violates several rights such as 1) the right to adequate standard of living enshrined in Article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) [1] and Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). [2] 2) The right of everyone to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health under Article 12 of the ICESCR. 3) The right to life and human dignity under Article 6 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). [3] In addition, according to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 64/292, states are obligated to ensure the water supply must be sufficient and continuous, safe and acceptable, physically accessible and within safe reach and finally affordable to all. [4]

The deterioration of the quality of the drinking water and the shortage of water for household uses and consumptions have been the main problems for Ahwazi population for many years. Both farmers and local residents in Ahwaz have been protesting against the Iranian state policy of building and constructing more dams on Ahwazi rivers. They have been strongly vocal against the projects of diverting water from Ahwazi rivers to central provinces in Iran for agricultural and industrial uses. [5] These discriminatory and illegal policy and projects have caused humanitarian and environmental catastrophes in the Ahwazi land, as well as undermining the most fundamental right of millions of farmers and urban populations to water for their agricultural needs and human consumption.

Ahwaz Monitor has described the condition of the drinking water as ‘this foul fluid which looks and reportedly smells like liquid sewage is, in fact, the heavily polluted water supply for drinking and washing at a children’s school in the Arab Ahwaz region of Iran.’ It is not only unhealthy for human consumption but is also unfit for animal drinking due to including ‘untreated waste products, including domestic sewage and industrial and hospital waste’. The Iranian regime has been ignoring it for years. It is unwilling and reluctant to take any positive and effective measures to reduce the pollution of Ahwazi rivers and to enforce basic environmental legislation for this end. [6]

On 26 June 2018, people in the city of Abadan and Mohammarah straggled to find clean water to buy and were gathered in front of the Department of Water Supply in protest of salinity and disruption of water. Therefore, the Revolutionary Guards Corps, Basij and police forces stayed on high alert for any uprising in these cities. According to the videos and pictures sent from the cities of Mohammarah and Abadan, people including children, women and elderly are lining up in long queues to fill their plastic containers from the distributing water tankers. People continued demonstrating in front of the governments’ offices, demanding changes and chanted, demanding right to water and sanitation. They also called on the governors and the government representatives to resign and chanted that Mohammarah and Abadan have no water and are dying from thirst and that thieves (the government) robbed them in the name of religion. According to the uploaded images in social media and websites such as Iran International, the security forces placed their snipers in the city centres and on rooftops of the government buildings to forestall protest and to deter the crowds from joining the demonstration.

On 29 June 2018, women and children joint the protesters and called for accountability and justice. They chanted ‘our enemy is here, liars who say the USA’ and ‘down down with Khamenei.’ According to the information received from local activists, the security forces arrested dozens of the peaceful demonstrators. However, environmental and social activists in other Ahwazi cities showed solidarity with the people of Mohammarah and Abadan and supported their ongoing protests for getting clean water.

On 30 June 2018, according to the videos and photos shared on social media, the security forces fired tear gas and live bullets on people participating in peaceful protesters in Mohammarah. Eight people have been injured and suffered from suffocation including the 32-year old Amin Esmail Khowayat. According to eyewitnesses, at least one person was killed by the direct live bullet from the Revolutionary Corps. In response, people clashed with the security forces and tried to defend themselves by pelting stones at them. There were reports of arrests and videos from local activists showing that the Revolutionary Corps and Basij destroying public places and burning the museum and banks in Mohammarah to accuse the protestors in order to use excessive forces against peaceful demonstrators to end the uprising.

On 1 July 2018, the security forces arrested tens of citizens in Molavi district and 10 people in Towejat district in Mohammarah and kept them in unknown location. Disappointingly, the governor of Mohammarah described the protestors as mob and vagrant, disrespecting their basic right to peaceful demonstration and their demand for clean and healthy drinking water. The regime blocked the main entrance to the city centre in Mohammarah and started sweeping arrests in the neighbourhoods and houses including the activist Hussain Majedpour. The regime turned the city into a security and military garrison. However, people in capital city of Ahwaz and Khur Mosa demonstrated against the shortages of the water and the worsening of the drinking water in both Abadan and Mohammarah. They called on the government to take all necessary steps to provide healthy and clean water for the affected people immediately. In connection to this solidarity, the security forces arrested Maher Dasomi a teacher, blogger and cultural activist; HadiFaili (Manabi) a photographer and cultural activist; Hamid Khalilawi a cultural activist; Mahdi Bawi; Reza Sawari; Sayed Adel Fazeli and Yousef Beit Sayah in Ahwaz. The arrests came due to the activists’ participation in the protest and showing solidarity with the people in Mohammarah and Abadan. However, they were released the following day. In Slich district in Abadan, security forces attacked the protestors and fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. In the meantime, many international medias such as the Voice of America, Haaretz, CNN, BBC and many others covered the news of the ‘Uprising of Thirst’ in Ahwaz.

On 2 July 2018, reports from within Ahwaz revealed the deployment of a large number of the security forces including more than 100 heavy armed police officers of motorcycle unit and up to 300 elements of Special Forces. They arrived from Ahwaz city and the capital city of Tehran. They were posted to the entrance, central and the key locations of Abadan city to prevent people from gathering in the main streets for demonstration. The communication team of the State Department twitted about the uprising of Ahwazi people, writing ‘they (protestors) demanded water, but bullets were offered to them (by the security forces).’ In another tweet, it acknowledged the ongoing protest in the cities of Ahwaz happened against the contamination of water. And that there were clashes between the demonstrators and the security forces which resulted in injuries of several protestors. Meanwhile, people in Khur Mosa continued their support and solidarity with the affected cities and the security forces clashed with them using tear gas and live bullet to disperse the demonstration and have arrested some protestors including Daniel Garghuli in Kurah district (Shahrak Taleghani). The communication team of the State Department posted a video, showing protestors chanting for change and the security forces firing tear gas and live bullets to break up the crowd in Ahwaz city. According to Mizan, a news agency belongs to Iranian judiciary, 10 people were arrested among the 35 people that have been identified in Abadan and Mohammarah in connection with the uprising. The Iranian Judiciary accused these victims of being chaotic, terrorists and separatists that are supported and organised by the United States. [7]

On 3 July 2018, the rights activists in Ahwaz claimed that the number of arrested people reached 100 since the protestors were identified by the security forces from the released videos and subsequently were arrested overnight in their homes. The communication team of the State Department twitted on several occasions about the number of the arrested people in the protests; shared some of the videos speaking about the suffering of Ahwazi people as a result of the deterioration of the economic situation and the lack of basic services in Ahwazi cities. It also published videos which demonstrate the bad quality of the water that people in Mohammarah receive for their consumption while the Iranian regime is spending huge resources in support of terrorist groups in the Middle East and are reluctant to improve the quality of the drinking water or to provide the necessary services.

On 4 July 2018, the security forces launched an attack on Slich district (Istgah 7) in Abadan, arresting tens of protestors including members of the Resaleh Cultural Organisation. According to Rokna news agency in Iran, the police forces of Abadan with the assistance of Tehran Special Unit arrested 50 people in Abadan in connection with the demonstration in only 48 hours between 4 July and 6 July 2018. This news agency with close connection with the Iranian regime had accused the arrested people of being rebellious and saboteurs that followed foreign networks to disrupt the every-day life in the cities and to terrorise people. [8]

Since the start of the ‘Uprising of Thirst’, the Iranian Judiciary and the security forces announced that at least 60 people were arrested in connection with the demonstrations against the bad quality and the shortages of water in Mohammarah, Abadan, Khur mosa and Ahwaz city. However, according to Ahwazi activists, at least 160 individuals have been detained by the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the security forces in relation to the recent protest in Mohammarah city alone. In addition, many of the protestors that were injured by the illegal hunting guns used by the security forces, are treated secretary in their houses due to the fear of arrest if they seek medical help from hospitals. The following individuals have been identified among the victims being arrested by the Iranian security forces during and after the demonstrations.

  1. 1) Tariq Zohair from Mohammarah was arrested on 30 June 2018.

  2. 2) Yousef Sayahi from Mohammarah was arrested on 1 July 2018.

  3. 3) Hussain Hussainawi from Mohammarah was arrested on 1 July 2018.

  4. 4) Amin Maniat from mohammarah was arrested on 1 July 2018.

  5. 5) Mostafa Eyadni, 15 years old from Mohammarah was arrested on 3 July 2018.

  6. 6) Walid Zehairi, 27 years old from mohammarah was arrested on 3 July 2018.

  7. 7) Walid Eydani, 15 years old from Mohammarah was arrested on 3 July 2018.

  8. 8) Hani Shakhi, 25 years old, son of Baqer from Mohammarah was arrested on 3 July 2018.

  9. 9) Ghanem Naseri 45 years old from Mohammarah was arrested on 3 July 2018.

  10. 10) Khaled Hamdi from Mohammarah was arrested on 3 July 2018.

  11. 11) Abdelreza Asakereh from Mohammarah was arrested on 3 July 2018.

  12. 12) Jafar Eydani, 36 years old from Abadan was arrested on 4 July 2018.

  13. 13) Foad Baghlani, 45 years old from Abadan was arrested on 4 July 2018.

  14. 14) Mahdi Alnasri, 30 years old from Abadan was arrested on 4 July 2018.

  15. 15) Abas Baghlani, 28 years old from Abadan was arrested on 4 July 2018.

  16. 16) Hussain Amiri from Abadan was arrested on 4 July 2018.

  17. 17) Aghil Salami from Abadan was arrested on 4 July 2018.

  18. 18) Tamim Baghlani from Abadan was arrested on 4 July 2018.

  19. 19) Reza Naseri from Abadan was arrested on 4 July 2018.

  20. 20) Mohammad Bawi, 23 years old from Abadan was arrested on 4 July 2018.

  21. 21) Mahmood Tamimi from Abadan was arrested on 4 July 2018.

  22. 22) Mansoor Tamimi from Abadan was arrested on 4 July 2018.

  23. 23) Mahdi Soleimani, 17 years old from Mohammarah was arrested in Safa town on 5 July 2018.

  24. 24) Amin Khethair Ahwazi from Hafar district in Mohammarah was arrested on 29 June 2018 after being injured in his leg by the security forces.

The identity of the rest of the victims could not be obtained due to security reasons raised by the victims’ families.


[1] Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN Treaty Series, vol 1577, p 3, 20 November 1989, Article 27.

[2] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, GA Res 2200A (XXI), 16 December 1966, Articles 11 and 12.

[3] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, GA Res 2200A (XXI), 16 December 1966, Articles 6 and 10.

[4] UNGA, The human right to water and sanitation, A/RES/64/292, 3 August 2010.

[5] Ahwaz Monitor, ‘Iran’s weaponization of water in its silent war on Ahwaz’ (08 December 2016) <http://www.ahwazmonitor.info/new/irans-weaponization-of-water-in-its-silent-war-on-ahwaz/> accessed 9 July 2018.

[6] Ahwaz Monitor, ‘This is drinking water at a children’s school in Ahwaz – would Mullahs let their children drink it?’ (6 August 2017) <http://www.ahwazmonitor.info/new/this-is-drinking-water-at-a-childrens-school-in-ahwaz-would-mullahs-let-their-children-drink-it/> accessed 9 July 2018.

[7] Mizan News Agency, ‘Identifying 35 perpetrators of recent disturbances in Khorramshahr and Abadan / arresting one of the main propagators that calls for riot’ (3 July 2018) <http://www.mizanonline.com/fa/news/433203/شناسایی۳۵تنازعاملیناغتشاشاتاخیرخرمشهروآباداندستگیرییکیازعواملانتشاردهندهاصلیفراخوان%E2%80%8Cهایدعوتبهآشوب> accessed 14 July 2018.

[8] Ali Ranjkesh, ‘Arrest of 50 major rioters in Abadan’ (Rokna, 7 July 2018) <https://www.rokna.net/بخشپرونده-3/395810-دستگیریعاملاصلیآشوبگریدرآبادان> accessed 14 July 2018.

By Abdulrahman Hetteh


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