Iranian security forces opened fire on protesters who massed in their thousands Wednesday in Mahsa Amini’s hometown to mark 40 days since her death, according to a rights group and verified videos.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died on September 16, three days after her arrest in Tehran by the notorious morality police for allegedly breaching the Islamic dress code for women.
Anger flared at her funeral and quickly sparked widespread protests that saw young women lead the charge, burning their headscarves and confronting security forces, in the biggest wave of unrest in the Islamic republic for years.
Despite heightened security measures, columns of mourners had poured into Saqez in the western Kurdistan province to pay tribute to Amini at her grave at the end of the traditional mourning period.
In a viral picture of the scene verified by AFP, a young woman was seen standing on the roof of a car without a hijab head covering, looking into the distance at the highway packed with scores of vehicles and mourners.
“Death to the dictator,” mourners chanted at the Aichi cemetery outside Saqez, before many were seen heading to the governor’s office in the city centre, where Iranian media outlets said some were poised to attack an army base.
“Security forces have shot tear gas and opened fire on people in Zindan square, Saqez city,” Hengaw, a Norway-based group that monitors rights violations in Iran’s Kurdish regions, said without specifying whether there were any dead or wounded.
Iran’s ISNA news agency said the internet had been cut in Saqez for “security reasons”, and that nearly 10,000 people had gathered in the city.
But many thousands more were seen making their way in cars, on motorbikes and on foot along a highway, through fields and even across a river, in videos widely shared online.
– ‘Year of blood’ –
Noisily clapping, shouting and honking car horns, mourners packed the highway linking Saqez to the cemetery eight kilometres (five miles) away, in images that Hengaw told AFP it had verified.
ISNA said some of the crowd returning from the cemetery had “intended to attack an army base”, until they were dispersed by other participants.
A police checkpoint was torched and fires burned along a bridge in the Qavakh neighbourhood of Saqez, in a verified video.
“This year is the year of blood, Seyed Ali will be toppled,” a group of them chanted in a video verified by AFP, referring to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Kurdistan, Kurdistan, the graveyard of fascists,” others were heard singing in a video shared by activists on Twitter. AFP was unable to immediately verify the footage.
Hengaw said workers went on strike in Saqez as well as Divandarreh, Marivan, Kamyaran and Sanandaj, and in Javanrud and Ravansar in the western province of Kermanshah.
The Norway-based rights group said Iranian football stars Ali Daei and Hamed Lak had travelled to Saqez “to take part in the 40th day” service.
They had been staying at the Kurd Hotel but were “taken to the government guesthouse… under guard by the security forces”, it said.
Daei has previously run into trouble with authorities over his online support for the Amini protests.
– ‘Foes behind unrest’ –
Kurdistan governor Esmail Zarei-Kousha accused Iran’s foes of being behind the unrest.
“The enemy and its media… are trying to use the 40-day anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death as a pretext to cause new tensions but fortunately the situation in the province is completely stable,” he said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.
The social media channel 1500tasvir, which chronicles rights violations by Iran’s security forces, said fresh protests flared at universities in Tehran, Mashhad in Iran’s northeast, and Ahvaz in the southwest, among others.
Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights said the security forces’ crackdown on the Amini protests has claimed the lives of at least 141 demonstrators, in an updated death toll Tuesday.
Amnesty International says the “unrelenting brutal crackdown” has killed at least 23 children, while IHR said at least 29 children have been slain.
More than five weeks after Amini’s death, the demonstrations show no signs of ending. They have been fuelled by public outrage over the crackdown that has claimed the lives of other young women and girls.
Iran’s Forensic Organisation said in a report this month that Amini’s death “was not caused by blows to the head and vital organs and limbs of the body”.
But lawyers acting for her family have rejected the findings and called for a re-examination of her death by another commission.