PARIS: Iranian protesters remained defiant Monday with students staging sit-ins and some industrial workers going on strike despite a crackdown activists say has left dozens dead and hundreds more imprisoned. Videos posted on social media indicated that protests flared at various points in the capital and other cities over recent days, with women burning headscarves and shouting slogans against the Islamic republic.
Kurdish rights group Hengaw accused the authorities of using heavy weaponry, including “shelling” on neighborhoods and “machine gun fire”, in the northwestern city of Sanandaj – claims which could not be independently confirmed amid widespread Internet blocks. Gunshots were also heard in Amini’s hometown of Saqqez, said the Norway-based group.
The unrest erupted over three weeks ago over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, an Iranian woman of Kurdish origin who died following her arrest by the notorious Tehran morality police who enforce the strict dress rules on women including compulsory headscarf. Activists say she was beaten in custody, while the authorities in Iran have released a medical report blaming a pre-existing condition.
The protests have channeled anger among some Iranian women over the compulsory headscarf, but have also seen slogans shouted against the Islamic system created by late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after the ousting of the shah in 1979. Oslo-based non-government group Iran Human Rights (IHR) shared images of a sit-in protest at the northern Gilan university and of high school girls in the northern town of Mahabad removing their headscarves.
It also posted a video which it said showed a large crowd of students outside Tehran polytechnic on Monday denouncing the “poverty and corruption” in Iran and shouting “death to this tyranny”. Footage shared on social media, including by news site Iran Wire, said students at Tehran women’s university Al-Zahra shouted criticism of the regime during a visit Saturday by President Ebrahim Raisi.
Student at universities including Tehran Azad also painted their hands red to evoke the crackdown by the authorities on the protests, images showed. State news agency IRNA said police used tear gas late Sunday “to disperse the crowds in dozens of locations in Tehran”, adding that the demonstrators “chanted slogans and set fire to and damaged public property, including a police booth”.
Analysts say that the multi-faceted nature of the protests – ranging from street marches to student strikes to individual actions of defiance – has complicated the state’s attempts to quell the movement. This could make the protests an even bigger challenge to the authorities under supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 83, than the Nov 2019 protests against energy price hikes that were bloodily put down.
One viral video said to show a woman bareheaded in defiance of the dress code, in a street in the northwestern city of Kermanshah with outstretched arms and offering “free hugs” to passers-by. There have also been signs of labor unrest. Videos broadcast by Persian media based outside Iran showed striking workers burning tyres outside the Asalouyeh petrochemical plant in the country’s southwest. IHR said workers were blocking roads there, and there were also reports of strikes at refineries in Abadan in the west of Iran and Kengan in the south.
In an act of cyber defiance, the hacking group Edalat-e Ali (Ali’s Justice) had posted an image during the main state TV evening news on Saturday of Khamenei in crosshairs and being consumed by flames. The crackdown on the protests sparked by Amini’s death has claimed at least 95 lives according to Norway-based group Iran Human Rights.
Another 90 people were killed by the security forces in Iran’s far southeastern city of Zahedan from September 30 after protests sparked by the alleged rape of a teenage girl by a police chief in the Sistan-Baluchistan province, said IHR, citing the UK-based Baluch Activists Campaign. State media have said 24 members of the security forces have been killed overall, including in the Zahedan unrest.
Foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani warned Monday the government would “not stand with its hands tied in the face of chaos and disorder”. Campaign groups including IHR have also pointed to videos showing brutality by the security forces, including a defenseless protester beaten by baton-wielding police while taking cover in a building.
Activists also accuse the authorities of a campaign of mass arrests and travel bans to quell the protests, with celebrities caught up in the dragnet. Ali Daei, once the world’s top international goalscorer in men’s football, had his passport confiscated on returning to Tehran from abroad after bitterly criticizing the Islamic republic on social media, Iranian media reported. Authorities returned his passport on Monday. – AFP