Over the weekend, police chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam criticized state-controlled television for broadcasting images of people eating chicken. He suggested such footage could spur the underprivileged to revolt against affluent Iranians.
“Films are now the vitrine of the society, and some individuals witnessing this class gap might say, ‘We will take knives and take our rights from the rich,'” Ahmadi Moghadam warned during a July 14 press conference by law-enforcement officials.
In Iran, the government fixes the price of chicken at a point lower than the market rate, which has risen by some 60 percent since last year, presumably as a result of inflation and unprecedented tough Western sanctions imposed on Tehran for its controversial nuclear program. Nowadays Iranians pay as much as $5 for a kilogram of chicken. Pre-sanctions prices hovered around $2.
Long lines of people waiting to buy the government discounted chicken is now a common sight in Iranian cities, and people have been known to stand in queues for more than 14 hours in high summer temperatures.
What some Iranian media have taken to calling the “chicken crisis” is being blamed on delays in chicken-feed imports caused by the sanctions.
WATCH: Amateur video reportedly shows Iranians running into a state cooperative to buy chicken at lower price:
The tough situation is another indication of the plight of ordinary Iranians in the face of sanctions and Iranian officials' mismanagement of the economy.
One Tehran man told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that many people expect tougher days ahead.
“We have given up on buying chicken," he said. "[Iranian leaders] have created so much poverty that we can barely buy potatoes. This year chicken is banned from films, six months later potatoes will be banned in films, and by next year there won’t be any bread.”
On July 16, the head of the central Tehran branch of Iran's Islamic Azad University, Ferdows Hajian, announced a one-day chicken boycott in protest against the rising cost of the meat.
"The Central Tehran Branch of the Islamic Azad University symbolically will not buy chicken and meat on Tuesday [17 July] due to high prices and as a way of supporting the government and the people," Iran’s student agency ISNA quoted Hajian as saying.
Hajian blamed the rising prices on middlemen looking to make a profit.
Iranian officials have so far not offered any concrete solution to the soaring prices of food staples. Their method of choice for now seems to be censorship.
Last week, Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini warned the media against publishing reports on the impact of Western sanctions. "The situation regarding sanctions and other pressures, especially in economy ... requires more cooperation by the media so the country is not hurt," Hosseini said, adding that Iran is not in a position to allow reporting that is not compatible with the country’s national interests.
The warning by Hosseini and Ahmadi Moghadam came after the EU activated an embargo on Iran’s key oil industry on July 1.
In response to the censorship efforts, some Iranians have begun posting images and cartoons of chickens on social media.
Arash Ashourinia, a well-known Iranian photographer, updated his photo blog with several photos of chicken dishes, explaining that he decided to post the photos before their publishing would be banned in Iran.
Vahid online, a prominent Internet activist, wrote sarcastically on Facebook that in the future movies on Iran’s state television will include a warning: "This program contains images of cooked chicken."
-- Golnaz Esfandiari