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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Golnar Motevalli

Iran protests keep pressure on Raisi as deaths reportedly rise

Protests against Iran’s leadership entered their fourth week with further reports on social media of violent crackdowns by police, with rights groups reporting the deaths of at least four people by security forces over the weekend.

The civilians were killed in Kurdish cities in western Iran, according to the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights. Several unverified photos and videos from the center of Sanandaj, the capital of western Kurdistan province, showed a young man bloodied and slumped behind the wheel of his car after having been shot in the head. The footage couldn’t be verified by Bloomberg News.

According to Hengaw, which is based in Europe, security forces shot the man at close range as he sounded his car horn in solidarity with protesters. A security official in Kurdistan province said the man was killed by “anti-revolutionary agents” and that police or security forces weren’t in the area, according to the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency.

Officials of the Islamic Republic have described the protesters as “rioters,” “terrorists” and “anti-revolutionaries.” Thousands of people have been arrested and rounded up in jails, according to various state media reports since last month.

The reports of the weekend deaths emerged after President Ebrahim Raisi addressed pro-government students at a prominent women-only university on Saturday. In his speech, shown on state TV, he pledged his full support for the security forces and said the protesters were “enemies,” using a Persian verse to liken them to flies.

His appearance at Al Zahra University was soon overshadowed after videos emerged showing crowds of female students chanting “Raisi get lost” and “Death to the oppressor” while he spoke inside the lecture theater. Protests on the campus and several other universities around the country appeared to continue on Sunday, according to unverified videos.

Majid Mirahmadi, deputy interior minister for law enforcement, said on Sunday that anyone arrested from now on would be tried in court and not released “under any circumstances,” according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

The unrest, some of the most vehement and widespread since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ushered in the current clerical establishment, was triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16. She died in the custody of Iran’s so-called “morality police,” who arrested her for allegedly flouting Islamic dress codes.

The protests have combined anger at Iran’s discriminatory laws against women with other grievances, uniting socioeconomic groups, generations and ethnicities in what seems to be an emphatic rejection of the political system of the past four decades.

Iran’s government hasn’t provided a death toll for the protests since Sept. 24, when it said 41 people had died. On Saturday, the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights said at least 185 people have so far been killed by security forces, including 19 children.

Underscoring the scope of the opposition facing the Islamic Republic, an Iranian dissident hacktivist group called Edaalate Ali claimed late on Saturday to have hacked Iranian state TV’s 9 p.m. news bulletin. Video of the purported hack shared by the group on Twitter showed a news package about Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei being interrupted for several seconds by a clip of him surrounded by flames and photos of several young women killed in the protests. Chants of “women, life, freedom,” a slogan that’s dominated the protests, can also be heard.

In another unverified video, purportedly from Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, a woman is shown collapsed and unconscious in the street. People around her can be heard screaming for help and saying she’d been shot. It’s unclear whether she survived.

Another clip from the weekend, apparently from the central city of Rafsanjan, shows four or five riot police surrounding a young couple. The husband can be heard repeatedly telling them to stop hitting his wife because she’s pregnant.

Many of the unverified videos of recent protests have shown armed, uniformed men in full riot gear beating or pushing teenagers and schoolgirls less than half their size.

The fresh wave of unrest came after more details emerged about the death of another teenage girl who had attended protests.

According to London-based rights group Amnesty International, 16-year-old Sarina Esmaeilzadeh was killed after being beaten by security forces. A local official in the province of Alborz, where she died, however, claimed she fell off a roof and had a history of suicide attempts, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said on Friday.

The official account is similar to one provided for Nika Shakarami, another 16-year-old whose family and rights groups say was killed by security forces. The Tehran Prosecutor’s Office said last week that Shakarami was thrown from the top of a building during an incident “unrelated to the recent riots,” in comments carried by IRNA.

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