‘Not afraid anymore’: Clashes as Iran protests enter fourth week

Published October 8, 2022
Iran’s riot police forces stand in a street in Tehran, Iran, October 3. — Reuters
Iran’s riot police forces stand in a street in Tehran, Iran, October 3. — Reuters

Schoolgirls chanted slogans, workers went on strike and street clashes erupted across Iran on Saturday, as protests over the death of Mahsa Amini entered the fourth week in defiance of a bloody crackdown.

Anger flared after the 22-year-old Iranian Kurd’s death on September 16, three days after she was arrested in Tehran by the notorious 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 protests continued on Saturday even as ultra-conservative 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 shouting “death to the oppressor”, said the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR).

In Amini’s hometown Saqez, in the western province of Kurdistan, schoolgirls were heard chanting “woman, life, freedom” and seen marching down a street swinging headscarves over their heads, in videos the Hengaw rights group said were recorded on Saturday.

In another video it shared, a group of girls could be heard chanting the same phrase — the catchcry of the protests — as they entered a school in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province.

Gruesome videos were widely shared on Twitter of a man who appeared to have been killed while sitting at the wheel of his car in Sanandaj, where shots had been heard in other footage.

Despite internet restrictions designed to impede gatherings and prevent images of the crackdown from 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 the Modares highway that cuts through central Tehran, according to online images verified by AFP.

‘Widespread strikes’

In another video, 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”.

Hengaw, a Norway-based Kurdish rights group, said “widespread strikes” were taking place in Saqez, Sanandaj and Divandarreh, in Kurdistan province, as well as Mahabad in West Azerbaijan province.

The 1500tasvir social media channel said there were protests in the southern city of Shiraz, while the London-based Iran Wire news website said students also skipped class to demonstrate in Isfahan and Tabriz.

A verified video was shared by 1500tasvir of a demonstration in Karaj, west of Tehran, as well as a large roadside gathering in the southern city of Kerman.

AFP was unable to immediately verify other footage from 1500tasvir, which monitors violations in the Islamic republic.

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.

Arbitrary detentions

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, the French government advised its nationals visiting Iran to “leave the country as soon as possible”, citing the risk of arbitrary detention.

The Dutch government advised its citizens to avoid travelling to Iran or to leave when they can do so safely.

“In many towns in the country there may be demonstrations which can turn violent,” it said.

“The police sometimes act harshly … Iranian authorities can also arbitrarily detain people with a foreign nationality.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian charity worker who was held in Tehran for six years until her release in March, called on the UK government to act over Iran’s rights abuses.

“I want the [UK government] to observe what is happening, not to turn a blind eye. I want them to protect us. We cannot be indifferent about what is happening in Iran,” she told Sky News.

“And if we talk about protecting the rights of our citizens, we have to do something about it. And I think we have to hold Iran accountable. “

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