Iran Protests Continue Despite Heavy Crackdowns

Iran Protests Continue Despite Heavy Crackdowns

The protests that have shaken Iran for nearly two weeks have continued across the country, including in the capital, Tehran, even as the government expands its crackdown to detain not just protesters on the streets but also public figures who have expressed solidarity with them.

In Zahedan, a city in the southeast with an ethnic Baluch population, tensions erupted on Friday with security forces firing at a crowd, and protesters attacking a police station with rocks and setting fire to a supermarket, according to videos posted on social media. Baluch activists claimed that security forces fired from a helicopter at a crowd gathered at the Maki mosque.

Dozens were killed and injured in the unrest. Nineteen were killed and 20 injured, including security forces, in Zahedan, the provincial governor said late Friday. The news site Haalvsh, focused on news from Baluch areas, put the numbers at 36 dead and 50 injured. Iran’s state media called the unrest at the police station in Zahedan a “terrorist attack” that had forced security forces to fire back.

On Thursday night, crowds marched in the northwestern city of Sanandaj, in Kurdistan Province, and in Mashhad, a city in the northeast, raising their fists and chanting, “Death to the dictator.” Elsewhere, women marched without hijabs in the southwestern city of Ahvaz and protesters clashed with the authorities in Qum, south of Tehran, and fled bullets fired by security forces in the southeastern city of Kerman, according to videos posted on social media.

Among those who have been arrested in the last two days are a soccer star, Hossein Mahini; and a performer, Shervin Hajipour, whose song about the difficulties of life in Iran has spread rapidly online.

Iran’s intelligence ministry said in a statement Friday that nine foreign nationals — from Germany, Poland, Italy, France, Sweden and the Netherlands — were among those arrested. It said it had discovered nearly 80 pounds of explosives, which it tied to a terrorist group plotting to target public places.

Trying to deflate the protests, Iran has severely restricted and slowed down internet access, hindering the ability of Iranians to communicate with each other and with the outside world. Videos posted on social media arrive with hours of delay at the end of each day, meaning that there is limited information about whether protests are as widespread, in number and in geography, as they were in the earlier days of the unrest.

In Tehran, several residents said in telephone interviews that protests had scattered to the edges of the capital in smaller pockets. The city still had a tense atmosphere and security forces were patrolling the streets, but normal life had resumed in most neighborhoods, they said. Shops and offices in Tehran remained open, and children attended school.

Calls for strikes have grown in recent days but other than students and professors at several major universities announcing a boycott of classes and a video showing shops closed in the Kurdish city of Oshnavieh, in the northwest, there have been no other reports of work disruption.

But other forms of civil disobedience and public displays of solidarity have emerged, including nightly chants of “death to the dictator” from rooftops, women’s shopping without hijabs, and antigovernment graffiti written on walls. On Tuesday, in Austria, players on the Iranian national soccer team wore black tracksuit jackets covering the national symbols on their jerseys before an exhibition game against Senegal.

The unrest erupted when news broke on Sept. 16 that a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, had died in the custody of the morality police after being accused of violating Iran’s mandatory head scarf law. Dissent manifested in dozens of cities, attracting large numbers of Iranians calling for the ouster of the autocratic clerics who rule the country.

Security officers have confronted protesters with mass arrests, bullets and batons. Amnesty International said that it had confirmed at least 52 deaths, but the numbers are most likely much higher, with hundreds wounded and thousands arrested.

President Ebrahim Raisi, an ultraconservative cleric, addressed the unrest on television late Wednesday, accusing protesters of misusing Ms. Amini’s death to destabilize Iran.

“We have to separate between rightful protest and riots,” he said, adding that the Islamic Republic’s “red line is the lives of the people and their properties.”

At least 19 journalists have been detained across the country since the protests began, according to Reporters Without Borders. Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and one of Iran’s most prominent reformist politicians, was arrested at a demonstration in Tehran this week, according to state media.

Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East program at Chatham House, a British research institute, said that the government’s tactics were clear. “The immediate goal is getting people off the streets and back into their homes, which optically and symbolically will show that the state is reasserting this authority,” she said.

“But without any meaningful concessions or outreach to those protesting, grievances are going to continue to fester,” she added, noting that future protests would be inevitable.

Since his election last year, Mr. Raisi has doubled down on enforcing the hijab law, unlike his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who had eased the presence of the morality police.

In his televised address on Wednesday, Mr. Raisi said that the government could change the way it enforced the law. That appeared to be an allusion to the brutal treatment of the protesters by the security forces. But he also said that what was not alterable was “our values,” suggesting that rules such as the one mandating the hijab would not be changed.

“These words are hollow,” Hadi Ghaemi, director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, an independent organization based in New York, said. “He neither has the track record nor trust from people” to make such changes, Mr. Ghaemi added.

The feelings of vulnerability and desperation, particularly among younger people and working-class Iranians who have been struggling in an economy battered by sanctions and mismanagement, are unlikely to be dismissed easily, experts noted. Many of the demonstrations were fueled by protesters who feel they have nothing to lose after years of watching previous uprisings fail to bring change.

Simmering resentment may be especially acute in Kurdish areas of northwestern Iran, where the government response has been especially heavy. The repercussions of the crisis in Iran have spilled over the border into Iraq, where Tehran has been attacking Kurdish opposition groups that it accuses of instigating some protests.

The cross-border attacks, in the semiautonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, have lasted for seven days and killed at least 13 people, according to Kurdish officials. The Kurdish news website Rudaw said that the death toll had risen to 18 on Thursday. And more than 50 others were injured, including children, after one strike affected a refugee camp in the town of Koi Sanjaq in the Kurdistan Region on Wednesday.

Iranian Kurdish opposition groups, including paramilitary forces, have long been based in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq along the Iraq-Iran border. Tehran calls them separatists and frequently conducts attacks over the border against them. The strikes have intensified since the latest protests began.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, one of the opposition groups targeted in the attacks this week, says that it is fighting for “a free and democratic” Iran, not independence.



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