Iranian security forces open fire as thousands mourn Mahsa Amini in her hometown

No immediate word on casualties; rights group says mourners poured into Saqez despite heightened security measures; strikes reported there and in other cities

Video from the Iranian city of Saqez shows mourners gathering at the cemetery where Mahsa Amini is buried, to mark 40 days since her death, October 26, 2022. (Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Video from the Iranian city of Saqez shows mourners gathering at the cemetery where Mahsa Amini is buried, to mark 40 days since her death, October 26, 2022. (Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

PARIS — Iranian security forces opened fire on protesters who massed in their thousands on Wednesday in Mahsa Amini’s hometown to mark 40 days since her death, a human rights group said.

“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, tweeted without specifying whether there were any dead or wounded.

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.

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 last month and quickly sparked the biggest wave of protests to rock the Islamic Republic in almost three years. Young women have led the charge, burning their hijab headscarves and confronting security forces.

“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 center.

Iran’s Fars news agency said around 2,000 people gathered in Saqez and chanted “Woman, life, freedom.”

But 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 by activists and rights groups.

Noisily clapping, shouting and honking car horns, mourners packed the highway linking Saqez to the cemetery eight kilometers (five miles) away, in images that Hengaw told AFP it had verified.

‘Year of blood’

“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 strikes were underway 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 soccer stars Ali Daei and Hamed Lak had traveled 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.

Kurdistan governor Esmail Zarei-Kousha said the situation in Saqez was calm and dismissed as “completely false” reports that roads into the city had been shut.

“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.

Fresh student rallies

Hengaw said most of Saqez was “empty” as so many people had left the city to join the ceremony to commemorate Amini.

The social media channel 1500tasvir, which chronicles rights violations by Iran’s security forces, said fresh protests flared elsewhere including at universities in Tehran, Mashhad in Iran’s northeast, and Ahvaz in the southwest.

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 fueled by public outrage over the crackdown that has claimed the lives of other young women and girls.

Iran’s Forensic Organization 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.

Iran announced sanctions Wednesday targeting individuals and media outlets in the European Union, in retaliation for the bloc’s punitive measures imposed last week on the morality police and other officials over the crackdown.

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