New protests erupt as Iranians mourn crackdown victims

A screengrab from a video posted on social media purportedly shows security forces trying to enter a closed shopping centre in Teheran. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS - Major new protests erupted in Iran on Thursday as people mourned victims of a deadly crackdown by the authorities seeking to quell over six weeks of demonstrations that have shaken its leadership.

Iran has for over six weeks been gripped by protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini who had been arrested by the notorious morality police – a movement that poses the biggest challenge to the Islamic republic since the 1979 revolution.

The clerical leadership under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 83, has responded with a crackdown that as well as killing dozens has seen 1,000 people charged so far and according to activists risking the death penalty.

With the movement no signs of abating, the problems for the authorities are compounded by the tradition in Iran of holding a “chehelom” mourning ceremony 40 days after a death, meaning each new killing can fuel new protest actions.

A member of Iran’s Basij paramilitary force was killed and 10 police officers and a cleric were injured Thursday during clashes in Karaj, west of Tehran, state media said.

Norway-based group Iran Human Rights said large numbers were attending a 40-day ceremony in Karaj mourning the death of Hadis Najafi, a 22-year-old woman activists say was killed by security forces in September.

IHR said police had blocked the highway leading to the cemetery to prevent even larger numbers attending.

“This year is the year of blood, Seyyed Ali (Khamenei) will be toppled,” the video showed them chanting.

The 1500tasvir monitoring channel posted pictures from Karaj of a large column of people marching in protest down a highway. It added that security forces had also opened fire on the protesters and posted a video of demonstrators throwing stones at a police vehicle.

Similar mourning ceremonies were held in several other cities including Arak, in central Iran, where IHR said large crowds shouted “freedom!” in memory of protest victim Mehrshad Shahidi.

The Kurdish rights organisation Hengaw reported a sequence of protests had taken place Wednesday in the Kurdish-populated regions of northwestern Iran where Amini hailed from, including the city of Sanandaj which has become a major protest flashpoint.

It said Momen Zandkarimi, 18-year-old from Sanandaj, was killed by direct fire from Iranian security forces.

Due to the pressure from Iranian security agencies who fear his funeral could turn into a protest, his body has been moved to another village for burial, it added.

Meanwhile, Hengaw said police had arrested the father of Komar Daroftadeh, 16, who it said was shot and killed by government forces in Piranshahr in western Iran. The father Hasan had at his son’s funeral bitterly denounced the security forces who he said showed “no mercy”.

According to an updated death toll issued Wednesday by IHR, 176 people have been killed in the crackdown on protests sparked by Ms Amini’s death.

Another 101 people have lost their lives in a distinct protest wave in Zahedan in the southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province.

Of all those killed, 40 were under 18 years of age, it added.

Thousands have been arrested nationwide, rights activists say, while Iran’s judiciary has said 1,000 people had already been charged over what it describes as “riots”.

The trial of five men charged with offences that can carry the death penalty over the protests opened on Saturday in Teheran.

“The charges and sentences have no legal validity and their sole purpose is to commit more violence and create societal fear,” said IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, condemning the “show trials”.

Activists condemned as a forced confession a video published by state-run Iranian media of Toomaj Salehi, a prominent rapper arrested at the weekend after backing the protests, in which a blindfolded man saying he is Mr Salehi admits to making “a mistake”.

Freedom of expression group Article 19 said it was “extremely disturbed Iran state media are sharing forced confessions” with the subject “under clear duress”.

At least 51 journalists have been detained in the protest crackdown, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Fourteen are confirmed to have been released on bail.

Journalist Yaghma Fashkhami became the latest prominent figure to be arrested, his wife Mona Moafi wrote on Twitter.

There is also growing concern over the wellbeing of Wall Street Journal contributor and freedom of expression campaigner Hassan Ronaghi, who was arrested in September and according to his family is on hunger strike with two broken legs sustained in custody.

Citing Saudi and US officials, The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday reported that Saudi Arabia had shared intelligence with the United States warning of an imminent attack from Iran on targets in the kingdom in a bid to divert attention from the protests.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said his country’s “policy is based on mutual respect and international principles” and that it “continues its policy of good neighbourliness”. AFP

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