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France 24
France 24

Iran uses arrests and intimidation to stop families commemorating protesters' deaths

On September 21, 2023, a cohort of cars and security forces descended on the village of the family of Javad Heidary, a protester killed in September 2022. The roads leading to the village and to the village cemetery where the man's body was laid to rest were blocked by Iranian security forces. © Observers

Since September 16, Iranian authorities have been using arrests, death threats and direct attacks to prevent families from celebrating the anniversaries of the deaths of their loved ones killed during the "Woman, Life, Freedom" protests. The aim: to prevent these commemorations from giving rise to new anti-regime demonstrations throughout the country.

The Iranian authorities had been scrutinising the date of September 16 for months. It was on that day in 2022 that 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being arrested by the Islamic Republic's morality police. Her death launched a movement of protests that deeply shook Iranian society.

While the country remained relatively calm on the anniversary of Amini's death, each day since then has marked the anniversary of the death of a protester killed by Iranian security forces during the first demonstrations. Families of those who lost their lives report house arrests, threats and summonses in what appears to be an attempt by the regime to silence all those who want to commemorate the death of a loved one.

The Heidary family wanted to commemorate the death of Javad Heidary, a 40-year-old protester in Qazvin, a town 150 km east of Tehran. He was killed by Iranian security forces on September 22 last year. On Thursday September 21, the day before the anniversary of his death, a convoy of security force vehicles descended on his family's village. The security forces cut off roads leading to the village, and to the cemetery where Heidary is buried. The village's internet connection was also cut. The security forces went so far as to attack the Heidary family home with tear gas and live ammunition.

Videos taken inside the house show family members, including children, hit by tear gas.

In a voice message posted on X (formerly Twitter), a family member said that several of Heidary's relatives, including his mother, were taken to hospital when authorities allowed ambulances to enter the village after a blockade that lasted several hours. The same source said that two of Heidary's brothers and his father were arrested.

"Your other child will end up in the grave next to the one who died"

The attack on the Heidary home is the regime's highest-profile reaction since the start of the planned commemorations for those who were killed last September. But in recent days, many families who had announced on social media that they were going to organise ceremonies in memory of their family members who were killed have cancelled the commemorations.

In a live chat on X that FRANCE 24 was able to listen to, several members of different protesters' families recounted the pressure and threats they have faced. 

One explained: 

"The security forces call or summon family members, including distant cousins, to threaten us and put pressure on us." 

Another added:

"We are told that if something bad happens to one of our relatives, it will be our fault. Or they'll say: 'Your other child will end up in the grave next to the one who died. Your child will be buried next to his father or mother if you go to the cemetery in the coming days'."

Another participant in the live chat said that security forces had stopped children as young as seven years old in the street and threatened them to get the message across to their families. 

Another said: 

"The families themselves are not afraid of death, but the security forces threaten to kill distant family members or people attending the memorial ceremonies. The families can't take the risk and are cancelling the ceremonies."

Families of high-profile 'martyrs' targeted 

Among the families under threat is that of Nika Shakarami, one of the best-known "martyrs" of the protests, who was killed at the age of 17. Her relatives say they cancelled a planned commemoration ceremony after officials warned her mother she would be arrested if she went to her daughter's grave site. Shakarami's aunt, with whom she lived, suffered a stroke as a result of this intense pressure, the family said.

The family of Hadis Najafi, another protester whose name became famous after she was killed by a police shotgun blast, also reports receiving threats. Several members of her family were arrested on September 15, then released. Najafi, 22, had posted a video on social media in which she declared, "I take part in these demonstrations so that, after a few years, when I look back, I'll be happy and see that everything has changed".

The family of 22-year-old Hananeh Kia, who was killed on September 21 last year in a protest in Noshahr in northern Iran, has also suffered apparent intimidation. Her father, mother and 15-year-old sister Helia were arrested on August 27 and released three weeks later.

At least 537 demonstrators were killed during 2022's anti-regime protests. The security forces also injured thousands of demonstrators and arrested at least 90,000 people, according to official figures.

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