image Photo: Reuters

Iran rocked by protests

Demonstrations erupted over a week ago following the death in custody of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman named Mahsa Amini after her arrest by “morality police.”

By Erin Viner

The protests are the largest to sweep the country since demonstrations over fuel prices in 2019, when an estimated 1,500 people were killed in a crackdown on protesters – the bloodiest confrontation in the Islamic Republic’s history.

Demonstrations have erupted in most of the country‘s 31 provinces over the death of the Kurdish woman, which reignited anger over issues including restrictions on personal freedoms in Iran, the strict dress codes for women, and an economy reeling from sanctions. Women have visibly burned their veils or cut their hair in an affront to Islamic Republic’s strict imposition of Sharia Law on women’s dress, including enforcement on the wearing of hijabs.

One of the main unions called for teachers, trade unions, military veterans and artists to stage the first national strike today and Wednesday to “stand with pupils, students and people seeking justice in these difficult but hopeful days.”

Since the outbreak of protests following Amini’s death on 16 September, enraged crowds have demanded the ousting of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, screaming “Death to the Dictator.” Youths in the northern city of Babol were filmed trying to remove portraits of Khamenei and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, at the gate of a university while cheered by bystanders.

State television showed footage of activists setting fire to garbage cans and a car, marching, and throwing rocks in the western and northern areas of Tehran. A video posted on the 1500tasvir Twitter account carried videos of protests in Tehran’s western district of Sattarkhan with a motorcycle apparently belonging to riot police burning in the background. State media admitted that 12 bank branches were destroyed in recent days and that 219 ATMs have been damaged.

Details of casualties in Iran have trickled out slowly, partly because of the restrictions on communication, but state-controlled media said 41 people have been killed so far. The sister of a 20-year-old woman identified as Hadis Najafi reported that she was shot to death by security forces last Wednesday. Videos of Najafi had been shared on Twitter, showing her without hijab and protesting in Karaj, 30 km (20 miles) northwest of Tehran. The Iranian Hengaw human rights group described Oshnavieh as “completely militarized.” It added that the northwest city is on strike, authorities were making arrests and at least five bodies were in the hospital morgue.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has denounced the week-long protests as “rioting,” and called for the “decisive dealing with those who oppose the country’s security and tranquility.”

The Amnesty International (AI) human rights group says that the protesters face a “spiraling deadly response from security forces” and has called for an independent United Nations investigation.

“The rising death toll is an alarming indication of just how ruthless the authorities’ assault on human life has been under the darkness of the internet shutdown,” said AI.

High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell has called on Iran to “immediately stop the violent crackdown on protests and ensure internet access,” provide details on the number of people killed and arrested, and an investigation into Amini’s “killing.”

The NetBlocks internet watchdog has reported the shutting down of multiple platforms including Instagram, WhatsApp and LinkedIn – in what activists say is an official attempt to prevent video footage of the violence reaching the world.

The United States is making exceptions in its sanctions regime on Iran to help sustain internet connection, in a move Tehran described as consistent with ‘Washington’s hostile stance.’ Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian criticized US support of the “rioters” and accused the White House of seeking to destabilize his country in contradiction to its claims of pursuing regional stability and for a nuclear deal with Tehran.

The Ayatollah Regime also organized state-organized rallies in several Iranian cities to counter the anti-government protests, as the military vowed to confront “the enemies” behind the unrest. Participants in Tehran yesterday chanted slogans against the United States and opposition groups they accused of insulting the Koran. “Sedition is the cause of riots and is directed by America,” they shouted.

Two international envoys have been summoned to Tehran’s Foreign Ministry over what it called interference and negative media coverage.

The United Kingdom’s ambassador called in for the “hostile character” of London-based Persian language media. Britain’s Foreign Ministry announced that it champions media freedom and condemned Iran’s “crackdown on protesters, journalists and internet freedom.”

Norway’s envoy was also summoned to explain the “interventionist stance” of its Parliament Speaker Masud Gharahkhani, who has expressed support for the protesters. Gharahkhani, who was born in Tehran, continued to speak out, writing on Twitter yesterday: “If my parents had not made the choice to flee in 1987, I would have been one of those fighting in the streets with my life on the line.”

Protests have also spread to neighboring Iraq, where dozens of local citizens and Iranian Kurds rallied outside the United Nations compound in the northern city of Erbil on Saturday, waving placards with Amini’s photograph and chanting “death to the dictator” in reference to Khamenei. Iranian state television reported that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps fired artillery at on bases of Kurdish opposition groups in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, while blaming armed exiled Iranian Kurdish dissidents of involvement in the unrest.

Clerical rule of Iran was established over Iran since it was founded 43 years ago in an “Islamic Revolution” that saw the overthrow of the Shah.