Twenty-nine years ago today, on May 30, 1992, Iran’s state-run radio suddenly declared “The riots in Mashhad were quelled.” As a renowned method, the Islamic Republic Broadcasting Organization (IRIB) did not elaborate on the details and only bragged about the State Security Forces’ power and firmness in the confrontation with fed-up citizens.
The IRIB also described oppressed citizens as rioters and hooligans, paving the path for violence and severe punishments against detainees. And as the Judiciary Special Representative, current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi played a leading role in the crackdown.
However, the protests began a day earlier on May 29, 1992, when impoverished citizens in Mashhad, the capital of the northeastern Iranian province Razavi Khorasan, vented their anger over the government’s plundering and oppressive policies within two days of protests.
To counter public ire and prevent further protests by people in vicinal cities and provinces, then-Judiciary Chief Mohammad Yazdi dispatched Raisi to Mashhad. Eventually, he “quelled the riots” and mercilessly cracked down on his fellow citizens leading to several deaths, injuries, and thousands of detainees.
What Ignited the Mashhad Protests in 1992?
At the time, the then-head of Astan Quds Razavi Vaez Tabasi decided to impound nearby districts and add them to the shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth leader of Shiite Muslims. To move the residents of these districts, local officials deprived locals of fundamental services and applied severe pressure.
However, impoverished people had no choice except to tolerate pressure. Indeed, they did not have any place to move to. Finally, on May 29, 1992, then-Governor of Khorasan province Ali Jannati, the son of the Assembly of Expert Chief and President Hassan Rouhani’s first Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, ordered security forces to attack and destroy the districts in the vicinity of Imam Reza Shrine.
Municipal agents and security forces used bulldozers to destroy underprivileged locals’ sheds. But they faced residents’ intense resistance, particularly in Tollab alley. To suppress disgruntled citizens, security forces used live ammunition leading to the death of a schoolchild.
The crime fueled protesters’ anger and prompted other citizens to join oppressed people in Tollab alley. During the next hours, outraged protesters conquered police stations 3 and 4 and confiscated a number of weapons. The government had lost control, and security forces had fled.
Protesters also attacked several banks and financial institutions affiliated with the Astan Quds Razavi and set them ablaze. They also assaulted some government offices like the local judiciary office, municipality, and post office, destroying them. According to official statistics, the damages were estimated at around 10 billion rials [$6.711 million].
The government sent the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to do whatever it took to end the protests. The IRGC immediately imposed martial law and detained thousands of people, according to the opposition Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI).
Eleven days later, Khorasan daily quoted a local Judiciary statement as declaring, “Four detainees, as the riots’ leaders, were hanged. They were Javad Gnajkhanlou, Gholamhossein Pourshirzad, Ali Sadeghi, and Hamid Javid.”
At the time, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei described the Mashhad protesters as weeds, justifying the cruel crackdown on disgruntled citizens. The government has yet to declare the genuine number of victims and arrestees. However, several officials provided damning admissions some years later.
“I had not yet forgotten how [reformists] suppressed and shed people’s blood during the early 1990s’ civil movements in Shiraz, Mashhad, Arak, and Mobarakeh [in Isfahan province],” said Emad Afroogh, a former member of the Parliament (Majlis).
“Mashhad’s incident led to importing batons into the country,” said Ahmad Tavakkoli, a member of the Expediency Council. “Regarding the existence of MEK units and some of their leaders, this incident is regrettable, not surprising.”
“They had set a police station on fire. When I arrived at Shohada [Martyrs] Square, I saw the entire square was ablaze. They had set the municipality on fire. The municipality office’s door and walls were ablaze. When I reached the fourth floor, I panicked. The entire [local] judiciary office was burning. I saw a bunch of fires on the ninth floor of Tossehe Bank. They had fired some parts of the post office,” said Jafarian, a then-security official in Mashhad.
“There are some elements who organize these movements. They were active that day, before it, later, and now,” said Mohammad Hashemi Rafsanjani, the brother of then-President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, pointing to the Mashhad protests.