Iranian official accuses desperate peddlers of being mafia members

Executive director for Organizing Jobs in Tehran said that they would use force against Tehran’s street peddlers, the state-run ILNA news agency reported on December 30, 2018.

Hamid Reza Tahsili said that he believed that some of Tehran’s street peddlers were mafias and had to be dealt with in an interview with the state-run ILNA news agency.

“I believe some of the street peddlers are mafias that should not exist. Some of them have been hired by some people and have taken over our streets and unfortunately they have rented out all the streets. We will definitely deal with force with these people because we have identified them,” he told ILNA.

The Tehran official said that other street peddlers who were not “mafias” had to go to specified locations in Tehran where they had to pay for the booths, tables and tents among other things.

This is while street peddlers can barely make enough to survive let alone pay for a booth.

Desperate peddlers accused of being mafia members

While most vendors in Iran have resorted to this job as a last option, Tahsili blamed what he called “mafias” when asked about recent incidents of street peddlers setting fire to themselves.

“A street peddler who is really needy does not set himself on fire. Members of the mafia definitely self-immolate in a coordinated manner so as to force the Municipality to back down,” he said.

“Those who create this atmosphere or self-immolate, are mafia members who want us to back down and we will never see eye to eye with these people,” he added.

Obviously, Tahsili is ignoring that many poor Iranians turn to street selling in a last-ditch effort to make ends meet as their economic conditions worsen.

Who are the street peddlers?

Street peddlers are the most deprived sector of the society despite the fact that according to a report, over 30% of Tehran’s street peddlers have university degrees and are unemployed.

Iran’s Sociologist Association has conducted an investigation on this subject, shedding light into the atrocious living conditions of these street vendors.

“76 percent of the street vendors have kids to feed; 90 percent have no other jobs; 98 percent of them have no other source of income; 31 percent do not even receive monthly subsidies; 43 percent have resorted to street vending due to unemployment and going bankrupt; 36 percent were previously professional workers and 21 percent ordinary workers. Only 33.5 percent of them are street vending as their first occupation. 78 percent of them are street vending due to the fact that they could not find another job,” the research explains.

Waging war against street vendors

The authorities’ efforts have for years been focused on eliminating street vending without finding sustainable solutions to resolve the actual problem.

Meanwhile, the state media admit that the authorities do not take any action against culprits of skyrocketing theft and corruption inside the regime.

“Authorities are seen taking measures against various people, including street vendors, who are resorting to numerous measures to make ends meet. All the while, officials launch a 500-branch institute with large billboards across the city and no one says a word… How many small pockets must be eliminated to have a few pockets become larger?” wrote the Tasnim news agency, affiliated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force.

While billions of dollars of the country’s assets are swindled by a few, the average Iranian is living is struggling for basic needs. The state media report that more than 90 percent of the population is somehow affected by poverty. In light of skyrocketing prices and inflation, high rents and utility bills suck their entire paychecks, leaving them in debt.

Tasnim writes, “Agents collect the street vendors’ goods unless they receive their bribes… According to vendors, municipality agents demand 100,000 rials each to let them go. Considering the countless number of street vendors in Tehran, the municipality is collecting a revenue in the billions. For example, if there are 100 street vendors in Vali Asr Square, the municipality is pocketing around 300 million rials a month (equal to $7,150).”

“Street vendors are continuously facing restrictions and attacks by authorities. 88 percent of them are constantly having scuffles with the municipality and 67 percent of them have had their merchandise ransacked at least once. 18 percent of them have been forced to pay fines. If any merchandise is confiscated they’re considered stolen, as it takes at least three or four months for the street vendors to have their goods returned. Women, and especially young women, usually forgo retrieving their goods due to the fact that municipality authorities seek sexual interaction in return for their goods,” Tasnim adds.

Heart-rending videos

It’s a common sight to see officers from Tehran Municipality’s “Urban Disciplinary Team” arguing with vendors to clear the sidewalk.

Dozens of videos of the aggressive and heavy-handed confrontation of municipality staff with sidewalk and street vendors have been circulated on social media in recent years.

Many videos show the aftermath of the attacks, with the usually elderly men or women sitting on the ground quietly wiping away tears or the younger peddlers crying out in sorrow.

A video of a large crowd surrounding Iranian policemen in Tehran after they viciously beat up a street vendor and destroyed his small cart was widely circulated on social media in August. A group of young men surrounded the policemen who were sat in their car. People in the crowd are heard demanding that the policemen get out of their car, chanting “come out”, but they refuse and cover their faces so as not to appear on camera.

On August 12, 2017, a street vendor died in a suspicious situation in city of Qom after the municipality staff violently tried to stop his business. Immediately after the incident was widely reported in social media, the Prosecutor-general summoned five employees of the municipality who were said to be involved in the case.

Ali Cheraghi, a street vendor in Tehran also died in hospital in summer of 2014 after being battered by a garbage recycling contractor’s staff who were armed with brass knuckles.

Later that year, a street vendor from city of Khorramshahr, Youniss Assakereh died in a hospital in Tehran after setting himself afire, protesting against the municipality’s staff who had accused him of blocking a public passageway and destroyed his fruit stand.

But, harassment of street vendors is not limited to street bullies. Over the last two decades, clashes have periodically broken out across Iran between street vendors and municipal authorities who have tried to forcefully remove them from streets.

Last year, Tehran municipal authorities declared 48 spots, mostly crowded streets and popular junctions, off-limit for vendors. Instead, they encourage vendors to book permanent or temporary stalls in markets set up by the Shahrban Company.

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