Saturday Oct 08, 2022
PARIS: Schoolgirls chanted slogans, workers went on strike and protesters clashed violently with security forces across Iran on Saturday, as demonstrations over the death of Mahsa Amini entered its fourth week.
Anger flared after the 22-year-old Iranian Kurd's death on September 16, three days after her arrest in Tehran by the morality police for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic's strict dress code for women.
Iran said on Friday an investigation found Amini had died of a longstanding illness rather than "blows" to the head, despite her family reportedly saying she had previously been healthy.
But the women-led protests continued even as President Ebrahim Raisi posed for a group photograph with students at Tehran's all-female Al-Zahra University to mark the new academic year.
Young women on the same campus were seen chanting against the regime, said the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR).
In Amini's hometown Saqez, in Kurdistan province, schoolgirls chanted "Woman, life, freedom" and marched down a street swinging headscarves in the air, in videos the Hengaw rights group said were recorded on Saturday.
Gruesome videos were widely shared online of a man who was shot dead while sitting at the wheel of his car in Sanandaj, Kurdistan's capital.
The province's police chief, Ali Azadi, said he was "killed by anti-revolutionary forces".
Internet monitor Netblocks reported outages in Sanandaj, and national mobile network disruptions.
Another shocking video shows a young woman said to have been shot dead in Mashhad, in what many on social media compared to footage of Neda Agha Soltan, a young woman who became an enduring symbol of the opposition after being shot dead at protests in 2009.
Despite internet restrictions designed to impede gatherings and stop images of the crackdown getting out, protesters have adopted new tactics to get their message across.
"We are not afraid anymore. We will fight," said a large banner placed on an overpass of Tehran's Modares highway, according to online images verified by AFP.
In other footage, a man is seen altering the wording of a large government billboard on the same highway from "The police are the servants of the people" to "The police are the murderers of the people".
The ISNA news agency reported heavy security presence in the capital, especially near universities. It said "scattered and limited gatherings" were held in Tehran during which "some demonstrators destroyed public property".
Street protests were also reported in Isfahan, Karaj, Shiraz and Tabriz, among other cities.
US-based campaigner and journalist Omid Memarian tweeted: "Videos coming out from Tehran indicate that there are so many protests, in every corner of the city, in small and big numbers."
Hengaw, a Norway-based Kurdish rights group, said "widespread strikes" took place in Saqez, Sanandaj and Divandarreh, in Kurdistan province, as well as Mahabad in West Azerbaijan.
IHR says at least 92 protesters have been killed in the crackdown, which has fuelled tensions between Iran and the West, especially its arch-enemy the United States.
Raisi — who in July called for the mobilisation of all state institutions to enforce hijab rules — appealed for unity.
"Despite all the efforts of ill-wishers, the strong and hardworking people of Islamic Iran will overcome the problems ahead with unity and cohesion," he was quoted as saying Saturday on the presidency's website.
Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stirring up the protests, and last week announced that nine foreign nationals — including from France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the Netherlands — had been arrested.
On Friday, France advised its nationals visiting Iran to "leave the country as soon as possible", citing the risk of arbitrary detention.
The Netherlands advised its citizens to avoid travelling to Iran or to leave when they can do so safely.
"There may be demonstrations which can turn violent. The police sometimes act harshly... authorities can also arbitrarily detain people with a foreign nationality," it said.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian charity worker held in Tehran for six years until her release in March, called on the UK government to act over Iran's rights abuses.
"We cannot be indifferent about what is happening in Iran," she told Sky News. "And I think we have to hold Iran accountable."