Cities in western Iran, on Wednesday, organized a solidarity strike to mark the fortieth anniversary of the killing of dozens of protesters by security forces in a crackdown on protests in the restive southeast of the country.
Security forces fired on the protests that erupted on September 30 after Friday prayers in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province on Iran’s southeastern border with Pakistan.
Iran has been rocked by a protest movement since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16, three days after her arrest for allegedly violating the strict dress code imposed by the Islamic Republic.
The crackdown on protests across the country since her death has killed at least 304 people, including 41 children and 24 women, according to a census issued by the Oslo-based Human Rights Organization in Iran.
The “Tasmir 1500” channel published on social media a video clip showing activists distributing leaflets calling for protest, Wednesday, in all cities on the occasion of the forty-day anniversary of “Bloody Friday” in Zahedan.
Famous Iranian actress, Taraneh Ali Doosti, posted a photo on Instagram showing her without a headscarf and holding a paper on which the protest movement’s slogan was written, “A Woman of Life, Freedom.”
Large-scale demonstrations were held in the cities of Baneh, Kermanshah, Marivan, Sanandaj, and Saqqaz, Amini’s hometown, in solidarity with Zahedan, according to the Norway-based human rights organization Henkau.
Videos published by activists of the US-based “Human Rights Activists News Agency” showed closed stores in Saqqaz and Zahedan.
The violence, which, according to the “Human Rights Organization in Iran”, killed at least 92 people in Zahedan, erupted on September 30 due to reports of the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl while in police custody.
Zahedan is one of the few Sunni-majority cities in Shiite-majority Iran.
But analysts say the Baluch minority have been inspired by the protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, which were initially motivated by women’s rights but have expanded over time to include other grievances.
“The 2022 protests are a meeting point for angry and frustrated Iranians with the same goal of overthrowing the Islamic Republic and a religious regime,” Said Golkar, associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, told AFP.
Security forces fired on men who took to the streets after leaving mosques after Friday prayers, killing dozens of people.
“What happened that Friday … in Zahedan, according to international law, is a clear example of the mass killing of civilians,” Henkau said.
“International organizations and Western governments must recognize this mass murder,” she wrote on Twitter.
Since then, at least 28 people have been killed in Sistan-Baluchestan, the organization told AFP on Wednesday.
The impoverished province of Sistan-Baluchestan is a flashpoint for clashes between drug-trafficking gangs, minority Baluch rebels and Sunni extremist groups.
Activists denounce the region’s exposure to discrimination by Iran’s Shiite religious leadership, with a disproportionate number of Baluchis killed in clashes each year and executions by hanging.
Threats to kill journalists
The protests over Amini’s death do not seem to be waning despite the bloody repression and the campaign of mass arrests that resulted in the arrest of artists, dissidents, journalists and lawyers.
On Wednesday, reformists called for “courageous and innovative changes,” including organizing a referendum to end the crisis, according to a statement issued by the “Iranian Reform Front,” which was established last year by close associates of former President Mohammad Khatami.
But Henry Rohm, an expert on Iranian affairs at The Washington Institute, suggested that the call would fall on deaf ears.
“The regime is unable to agree on even modest reforms to quell the protests,” Rohm said. “In a time of turmoil, there is little chance of[this regime]going to the polls.”
The organization “Reporters Without Borders” said Wednesday that Iran is systematically trying to silence women by arresting an unprecedented number of female journalists in its campaign against the protests over the death of Mahsa Amini.
“While the Iranian regime continues to suppress the protests that began after the killing of Mahsa Amini, about half of the journalists recently arrested are women, two of whom face the death penalty,” the organization said.
“The increase in arrests of female journalists reveals the Iranian regime’s intention to systematically silence women’s voices,” she said in a statement.
The organization indicated that since the outbreak of the protests, at least 42 journalists have been arrested throughout Iran.
Women led the marches, taking off their headscarves, burning them, chanting anti-regime slogans and confronting security forces in the street despite a crackdown that killed dozens of people.
The Iranian authorities have adopted a range of tactics in an attempt to quell the protests, which have become the biggest challenge to the religious leadership since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Security forces shot directly at protesters with live ammunition and paintballs, and threw tear gas at them.
Iran has sought to portray the protest movement as a plot orchestrated by its Western enemies, with Britain, Canada, the European Union and the United States imposing sanctions on the Islamic Republic for its human rights violations.
And German Foreign Minister Annalena Birbock announced Wednesday evening that the European Union will try next week to adopt new sanctions against Iran in response to the suppression of demonstrations. “We will not stop,” Pebrook tweeted, adding, “We will support the men and women of Iran, not just today, but as long as needed.”
The Revolutionary Guards were accused this week of threatening to kill two Iranian journalists working for the London-based Persian-language television channel Iran International.
Volant Media wrote in a statement that the two journalists had received “credible warnings and threats” which prompted the London police to “formally inform journalists that these threats pose a credible and significant threat to their lives and family members”.
On Wednesday, Iran’s Intelligence Minister Ismail Khatib warned Britain that it would pay the price for attempts to “destabilize security” in the Islamic Republic.
The official “IRNA” news agency reported that Khatib also accused Saudi Arabia of financing media outlets that support the wave of unrest.