All the faces of repression in Iran: from pasdaran to various intelligence agencies, to groups formed by criminals caught in prisons

The protests that have been going on for the past two weeks in several Iranian cities have put them in the spotlight repressive capacity of the security agencies of the Islamic Republic: there are hundreds of arrests and dozens of civilian casualties clashes with police and other state bodies. Responsibility in the management of public order in Iran however, it is not the responsibility of a single institution but “shared” between several official and semi-official agencies.

First there is the intelligence of Guards of the Revolution (not to be confused with the Moisthe Ministry of Intelligence), created by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2009 after protests for the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejadat whose head he remained for 13 years Hossein Taebreplaced last January by the general Mohammad Kazemi. Then there is the State Police (Faraja), born in 1992 from the merger of Shahrbani (body created in the Qajar era), of the Gendarmerie and gods Islamic revolutionary committees arose with the 1979 revolution. Among those who lead the fight against dissent there is, in fact, also the Ministry of Intelligenceat the helm of which since August 2021 there is Esmail Khatibto which are added the Basijparamilitary forces in the form of volunteers and non-volunteers, employed in both repression and information gathering activities, and the headquarters Thar Allah (or Sarollah) of the Irgc, in charge of managing security in the metropolitan area of ​​the capital Tehranbut also to take the situation in hand more organically in cases where protests or riots take on a national dimension.

It is about autonomous agencies between themwhich come into action at different times under coordination by the Supreme National Security Council chaired by the Supreme Leader, by the president Ebrahim Raisiby the Minister of the Interior Abdolreza Rahmani Fazliby the head of Justice Gholam Hossein Mohseni Eje’i and by the various commanders of the Irgc and the National Army. Here, as the Iranian researcher recalls Ehsan Mehrabidecisions are made on how to deal with the waves of protest and also the order in which these agencies intervene on the ground.

In each of the Iranian provinces there is a Security Council headquarters in which the provincial governor, local IRGC representatives, local police and intelligence detachments take part. They are responsible for managing security in the province and therefore also for the first phase of evaluation of a given protest. The first line of action is generally constituted by the police, who also express the Gasht-e Ershadthat is the patrols – made up of both male and female agents – of the so-called “Moral police”the one that stopped the 22-year-old Mahsa Aminithen died in custody.

If the demonstrations are particularly popular and if the authorities classify them as “Threatening” for public order, the “Special units” who in this situation are assisted by the staff of the Irgc and the Basij, highly ideologized, who normally recognize each other because they wear black civilian clothes, and are an integral part of the same special units. They move on foot or by motorcycle, often brandishing batons, pepper spray, tear gas And stun grenades. The head of the special units, general Hassan Karamiin April 2021 it was added byEuropean Union to the list of subjects under sanctions.

In this wave of demonstrations, the presence of the police was immediately more massive than the previous ones in 2019 and 2020, especially in areas notoriously “monitored” such as the region of Iranian Kurdistan, among the most active as well as the one from which Mahsa Amini came. The rules of engagement for the police, in the initial stages of a protest, require that protesters not be shot but limited to disperse them with tear gas and other tools, as well as proceed with stops and arrests. This in practice changed dramatically during the 2017 protests, during which the police made extensive use of rubber bullets but also to the real ones that caused the death of about 1,500 people.

Between the protests of 2019 and the current ones there has been an important institutional change, that is a structural reform of the same police forces that now have more powers and operate in closer coordination with the Ministry of Intelligence (Mois) and with the IRGC intelligence. Another novelty of these protests, then, is the use of riot officers also of female sex, whose formation was announced last year by General Karami, whereas until last year the women’s brigades had only duties related to the monitoring of the dress code. Especially during particularly popular events, both Basij and Irgc personnel take action in civilian clothestrying to infiltrate to gather information on the demonstrators but also, sometimes, directly dealing with the stops and arrests.

In a strongly ideological state, born from a revolution, other particularly extremist “troublemakers” and vigilant groups are added to the Basij: for example Ansar-e hezbollah, active since the 1990s, which usually attacks political groupings that publicly reject the authority of the Supreme Leader. According to several sources over the years, between the Basij and these other bodies, the prejudiced ei condemned who hope they can “Commute” the sentence.

“We identified and monitored around 5,000 violent criminals and initially ordered them to stay home in case protests spread. But then I thought ‘why not use it?’. So, I decided to organize them in three different regiments, to handle the protests on our behalf. I was right and if we want to train those who fight vandals we need this type of violent subjects, who are not afraid of a few drops of blood “, said the general some time ago. Hossein Hamedani in confirming that this type of subject has been employed since the 2009 protests.

As mentioned, if the protests spread throughout the country, it is Thar Allah who manages the situation. If the situation is considered critical, it is Thar Allah who is in charge of withdrawing the Basij personnel from the streets and replacing them with much better trained Irgc personnel. Except in rare cases, such as in the turbulent province of Khuzestanthe Army (Artesh) remains to watch and monitor government buildings or buildings deemed sensitive

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