Violent carjackings increase amid poverty and unemployment in Iran

·5-min read
© Observers

Using guns, tasers or machetes, carjackers in Iran are using more and more brazen strategies to threaten drivers and steal their vehicles or valuables. With poverty and unemployment on the rise, the crime is fueled by desperation, as shown in the shocking videos taken on highways and streets around Iran.

“Keft giri” is the Persian word that Iranians use for aggravated robberies, such as mugging. But now, they also use it to describe this worrying new phenomenon which has spread across the country in the past few years. Searching the term on Iranian social media channels brings up hundreds of videos of carjackings.

The method is different each time. Sometimes, it’s just brutal violence: carjackers ambush their victims and take what they want using force. Other times, they stage a fake accident as pedestrians and then threaten the driver in order to get access to his car and any valuable items inside.

These videos have shocked people around Iran with the increasing violence and cruelty demonstrated in the robberies. Some of the most brazen carjackings occur in broad daylight on busy roads, while the perpetrators hardly seem to be in a hurry.

The growing popularity of the crime has also caused dozens of videos advising the public on how to avoid carjacking to sprout up on Iranian media channels.

A video published on July 8, 2021 shows two men attacking a car with a machete. The video takes place in midday on a highway between Tehran and Qazvin, a city 150 kilometres to the east.

‘When I refused to stop, they began to wave huge machetes in the air’

Sima (not her real name) is a victim of a carjacking, which occurred as she was driving on a highway at rush hour in Iran’s capital, Tehran, in early June.

“I was driving home from my office. On my way, I took the exit that I always take on the Kordestan highway [Editor’s note: a north-south highway north of Tehran].

I reduced my speed to turn right. Then I saw a man wearing all black who was walking on the ramp. At first, I thought he was lost or something. But, he ran directly towards me, stood in the way of my car and broke my side mirror.

I was shocked for a second but suddenly I remembered that one of my friends said that exactly the same thing happened to him a few weeks ago on another highway. It was a carjacking.

I didn’t stop driving. When I reached the main street, I saw that a white car was already following me, and that man in black was in the car.

Three other men inside the car were yelling at me, “Stop! Stop! You hit this poor guy, you have to make it right.”

Even now as I think about their faces, they terrify me. When I refused to stop, they began to wave huge machetes in the air. I was trembling and screaming for help, but no one intervened. People are afraid for their lives. I was crying and begging for help…

Anyway, by some miracle, I remembered that there was a police station nearby. I just rushed there, stopped the car in front of it and literally jumped into the arms of an officer who was there.

‘We didn’t file a report, it was useless’

I thought that it was over, but the men were more aggressive than I thought. They stopped the car in front of that officer and one of them looked me in the eyes and said, “We will get you in the end”. With his machete he made a motion to say that they would cut my throat. Then the driver stepped on the pedal and drove away.

I was completely in shock. The police took me inside to give me some water. The officer there told me that I did the right thing by not stopping. He said that they rob dozens of people like this every day.

I asked them why they don’t do anything and he told me that they already have enough on their plate and few officers available to patrol. He said they would need three officers on every highway exit and every street – it’s impossible. I stayed at the station until my husband came to pick me up and we went home together. We didn’t file a report, it was useless.

‘They feel like they are taking back what they deserve’

Since that day, I swapped cars with my husband and I never take that highway anymore. It takes me one hour extra to get home every day, but I can’t even consider taking that exit anymore. Everytime I think about those men I feel sick. It’s awful to think that every day there is another friend or colleague or family member who is a victim of this violence. We see it in the streets.

I think the criminals are unemployed. And having no resources and being hungry makes them ready to do just about anything to earn some money. They hate anyone who they qualify as “rich”, as if anyone with some money has personally robbed them. They feel like they are taking back what they deserve.

A video published on July 8 shows an attempted carjacking. The man behind the camera says, “The white car has been the victim of a fake accident. The driver did not stop to avoid being robbed and, with the thief on the hood of his car, is going to the police station.” The carjacker is begging the driver to stop and let him go.

The number of carjackings and robberies is kept confidential in Iran, making it difficult to estimate the true scale of this phenomenon.

However, in a rare public announcement in June 2022, Reza Masoudifar, the vice president of social affairs and crime prevention in Iran’s judicial system, revealed that the total number of robberies in Iran has increased up to seven-fold in the 12 years since 2009, reaching 1.4 million cases a year.

Iranian Police Spokesperson General Mahdi Hajian said in a press conference in January 2021 that the increase in violent robberies stems from poverty and unemployment – and therefore is not the fault of police. He also warned against sharing videos of carjackings and robberies online, saying that “according to law, sharing these videos is forbidden”.

>> Read more on The Observers: Violence, suicide and addiction: an unprecedented economic crisis plunges Iranian society into chaos

Violent crime is increasing as Iran experiences a severe economic crisis that has left half the country living under the poverty line and one-fifth living in the slums.

According to an independent survey in Iran in 2021, more than one-third of Iranians say they have been the victim of robberies, and 27% of them were violent. While 70% of the victims say they were injured, only 5% took legal action against the perpetrators.

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