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The Farda Briefing: Iran Largely Quells Protests Over Rising Food Prices, At Least For Now   

Hundreds of teachers protest across Iran to demand fair pay, adjustment of pensions, and the release of their detained colleagues last month.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, a new RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.

I'm RFE/RL senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I’ve been following during the past week and what I’m watching out for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Scattered protests over rising food prices have spread to at least seven provinces in Iran. Iranian state-run media has acknowledged two dozen arrests. The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran says at least five people have been killed in the unrest. Reporters Without Borders says that the authorities have summoned dozens of journalists in a bid to pressure them to stay silent. The protests erupted after the government last week cut subsidies for basic food items. That led to a dramatic rise in the prices of flour-based products like bread and pasta, as well as cooking oil, chicken, and eggs.

Why It Matters: The protests underline growing public anger over a decimated economy that has been crippled by U.S. sanctions and years of mismanagement. The rallies, dubbed as the revolt of the hungry, were originally over economic grievances. But the demonstrations quickly turned political, with protesters directing their fury at Iran's clerical establishment. Using intimidation, force, and Internet shutdowns, the authorities have managed to avoid a repeat of the events in 2019, when the government's sudden decision to increase gasoline prices triggered mass protests and led to a bloody crackdown. Authorities have managed to limit and largely quell the price-hike protests, at least for now.

What's Next: Many Iranians are growing increasingly hopeless as they struggle to make ends meet. Inflation is soaring and the value of the national currency, the rial, continues to fall. Driven by desperation and anger, people are likely to take to the streets again in the coming days and weeks. Adding to the mounting pressure on the authorities, teachers, retirees, and bus drivers have been protesting to demand better pay.

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Sistan-Baluchistan is one of Iran's poorest provinces. Many in the volatile province, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, live in endemic poverty and have limited access to education and health care. Radio Farda's reporters visited the region and spoke to residents of the village of Mirabad, where malnutrition is rife. Residents there survive on subsistence farming and many children can't attend school because they don't have a birth certificate.

Prominent Iranian sociologist Saeed Madani has been arrested on security charges, including alleged "foreign links," the semiofficial Mehr news agency reported. It came after the arrests of several other intellectuals, including at least two filmmakers and a photographer. Madani, 61, was earlier this year prevented from leaving Iran to begin a one-year research program at Yale University in the United States. He has published several books on social issues in Iran, including violence against women, child abuse, and poverty. He has been arrested several times in the past.

What We're Watching

Iranian teachers have regularly taken to the streets to demand better pay and working conditions. In response, the authorities have summoned, detained, and jailed a growing number of protesters, activists, and members of the teachers' union. But that has failed to stop the rallies. On May 12, two French nationals visiting Iran were arrested, identified as French teachers' union official Cecile Kohler and her husband, Chuck Paris. They have been accused of "organizing a protest" with the purpose of creating "unrest" in Iran.

Why It Matters: Iran has attempted to link the French nationals with the protesting Iranian teachers. This is largely seen as a bid to discredit the rallies and increase pressure on the Iranian teachers' union to stop its protests. Iranian state-controlled TV aired images that it claimed showed the French nationals meeting Iranian teachers and taking part in a protest gathering. The arrests of the foreigners, which was announced just as an EU official arrived in Tehran, could also be aimed at pressuring the bloc amid negotiations over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Tehran has been repeatedly accused of detaining foreigners and dual nationals to extract concessions from the West. Pressure on Iran to free the French couple is likely to grow in the coming days. It is also unclear what impact, if any, their arrests will have on the teachers' protests.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

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Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

The newsletter is sent every Wednesday. To subscribe, click here.

We also invite you to check out the improved Farda website in English and its dedicated Twitter account, which showcase all of our compelling journalism from Iran.