Street robberies in Iran have risen in recent months, local people say, as US and European sanctions have taken their toll on the economy and purchasing power has fallen.
There are no official crime figures but Tehran residents report a rise in assaults on friends, relatives and neighbours. Usually the attackers are young men bearing knives who demand their victims hand over money or other valuables.
Authorities have sought to reassure people concerned about the rise in crime. Tehran police chief, Hossein Sajedi-Nia, said this month that more measures were being taken to minimise social crimes. The judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli-Larijani, warned in mid-December that the death sentence applies to robbers armed with weapons other than guns. “People’s security is more essential than bread,” he said, urging the police to “kick off a new round of dealing with hooligans”.
But one particularly shocking video on the internet posted earlier this month has fuelled a feeling of insecurity. Four men on two motorbikes – one of whom was holding a knife – stopped in a busy street and forced a young man to give them his briefcase. They also cut his face so he could not chase them. Iran’s police have identified the thieves and arrested them.
The rise in crime follows the fall of national currency, rial, by 48 per cent this year, after US and European Union banking and oil sanctions aggravated already high inflation and unemployment rates. Official figures put the rise in consumer prices for this year at 26.1 per cent while youth unemployment stands at 28.6 per cent , but many believe the real figures are much higher.
“The rise in social crimes shows people feel under enormous economic pressure,” said a senior non-western diplomat.
Ashkan, a 23-year-old young man, who lives in Resalat, a middle-class neighbourhood in eastern Tehran, said two men had threatened to kill him if he had refused to give them his money. “When they realised I did not carry any money, they took my mobile phone and shoes and made me walk home barefoot,” he said. The attack took place in broad daylight on a street near his apartment.
Mehran, a 28-year-old athlete who lives in Ahmadabad-Mostofi, a lower-middle-class satellite town southwest of Tehran, gave the IR400,000 ($32) in his wallet to his attackers, but was still stabbed. “I did not resist, but for some reasons they were scared that I might chase them, so they stabbed me [in the lower arm] and tore my tendon.”
Many remain nervous. Shirin, a 39-year-old housewife, has decided not to withdraw money from cash machines any more. “But if I am trapped in a street robbery, my husband has told me that I have to immediately give whatever I have without any resistance.”