Left with few options to legally highlight state repression in Iran, former Tehran University chancellor Mohammad Maleki and former hard-line columnist Mohammad Nurizad settled on a seemingly innocuous form of public protest -- collecting garbage from the streets of Tehran.
“[Collecting garbage] isn’t a crime," Nurizad wrote on Facebook on January 26. "Or is it?"
The two well-known dissidents' first street-cleaning action went off without incident last week. But when Maleki and Nurizad met early on the morning of February 5 for another round, they were met by security agents, who drove them outside the capital and left them by the side of a road.
Yet they remained defiant, continuing their protest along a desolate strip of highway and posting the photos of their good work on social media.
One shows the the 82-year-old Maleki, draped in a shawl that reads "Let's Sweep Garbage," flashing the victory sign while posing for a roadside photo. In the background looms a huge billboard with a picture showing the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, upon his return to Tehran from exile.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Farda afterward, Maleki said that, despite the detour thrown their way, he and Nurizad will press on.
“We will not stop our protest," Maleki said in a telephone interview from Tehran. "We will engage in symbolic acts of protests."
In recent months, the two have held a number of actions to highlight human rights violations in the Islamic republic, including the imprisonment of rights activists.
Both men are outspoken critics of the Iranian establishment who have in the past served time in jail.
The two say they decided to collect garbage because it is not considered a crime in Iran, where criticism of the establishment and attempts at public gatherings and protests often result in charges including “acting against Iran’s national security.”
In announcing the protest in late January, Nurizad said they were specifically protesting a travel ban they both face “without any reason and without a judicial order” and also against “the confiscation of some of their belongings” by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Nurizad, a former regime supporter turned dissident, shared photos of himself, Maleki, and a few other men and a woman with plastic bags filled with trash collected from the streets of the capital during the initial protest, held on February 2.