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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Iran cracks down as protests show no sign of easing

By Farnaz Fassihi

The Iranian authorities moved aggressively to disperse demonstrations in dozens of cities across the country this week, as an uprising demanding an end to clerical rule entered its third month, and neither protesters nor the government showed any signs of backing down.

Security forces, adopting new tactics, flew drones and helicopters low over the crowds of protesters, sometimes opening fire on them, videos posted on social media showed.

At a metro station in the capital, Tehran, security forces shot at people waiting for a train on a platform, setting off a rush as panicked commuters screamed and tried to dodge bullets, videos showed. Metro stations have been a common site for protests during the uprising.

In Zanjan, a city in Iran’s northwest, crowds tried to stop security forces from shoving protesters into a van. “Let him go!” they screamed. People were shot at as they ran for cover on the sidewalks, another video showed.

The protests in Iran erupted in mid-September after the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, while she was in the custody of the morality police for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law. Women and youth have been leading the protests, demanding social freedom and political change, and tapping into years of pent-up anger over the state’s inability to reform.

In major cities like Tehran, Tabriz, Isfahan and Mashhad, crowds on Tuesday chanted slogans and shouted their anger, their words directed at the most powerful man in Iran: the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The aim: to remove Khamenei from power.

Crowds have continued to gather in defiance of the authorities even as the government recently pledged harsh punishment for such dissent — including executions. Last week, 227 members of Parliament called on the judiciary to put protesters to death.

The government has deployed violent tactics against and conducted raids on university campuses and high schools. Rights groups say that at least 300 people have been killed, including 50 minors, and the United Nation said 14,000 had been arrested. The government says at least 30 of its security forces have been killed.

Activists in Iran have called for three days of nationwide protests and strikes from Tuesday to Thursday to commemorate “bloody November,” a reference to the November 2019 anti-government protests that followed a surge in fuel prices.

During those protests three years ago, Iran unplugged the internet and opened fire on crowds from close range, killing at least 350 protesters, according to rights groups, who say the real numbers are likely much higher.

Protesters now are starting to fight back against the government’s crackdown.

Videos from Tuesday showed protesters throwing rocks at security forces and setting up road blockades. In the city of Arak, a group of protesters smashed the windows of a security van and set it on fire with Molotov cocktails.

In Shiraz, in a bold and new act of civil disobedience, a couple kissed while standing in the middle of traffic on a busy street, with the woman dressed in jeans and a sweater and not wearing a scarf, according to a picture that spread on social media.

Young people have also begun targeting clerics by running up to them and tossing their turbans from their heads and running away, videos on social media show. A young activist in Isfahan said their message to the government is that if women are not safe for their choice of attire, then neither are the clerics.

On Tuesday, men and women gathered on the streets across the country, clapping and chanting, “Freedom, freedom, freedom.”

On Monday, the judiciary’s Revolution Court, which prosecutes political cases, handed down its first death sentence to an unidentified person, who was accused of setting fire to a government building, according to state media. On Tuesday another unidentified protester was sentenced to death for being an “enemy of God” and wielding a knife, the judiciary’s news outlet reported.

In Tehran, at least eight protesters have been charged with “corruption on earth” and being an “enemy of God,” which could potentially carry the death sentence.

Iran is also targeting three professional sectors critical to the uprising: journalists, doctors and lawyers.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said that 62 journalists had been arrested, including reporters Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, who first brought to light Amini’s case. A joint statement by the Intelligence Ministry and the intelligence wing of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard accused the two journalists of receiving training from the CIA to instigate unrest in Iran. Their respective newspapers have denied the allegations and said they were on assignment doing their jobs.

The U.N. Human Rights Council will convene a special session on Iran on Nov. 24, a meeting requested by Germany and Iceland and supported by 44 countries. A resolution that will be put to vote and is expected to pass will establish a U.N. fact-finding mission to investigate Iran’s human rights violations.

Mostofi, the rights lawyer, said that while international action against Iran could take time, the establishment of the U.N. investigative team would increase pressure on the country and “globalize the issue of Iran’s human rights abuses.”

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