‘Not afraid anymore’: Iran protests enter 4th week in defiance of deadly crackdown

As Raisi calls for unity in appearance at all-female Tehran university, students outside seen waving hijabs, denouncing him and regime; France tells its nationals to leave country

Members of feminist groups and Iranian migrants hold a demonstration in support of Iranian women following the death in Iran of 22-year-old Masha Amini, in Santiago, Chile, on October 7, 2022. (Martin Bernetti/AFP)
Members of feminist groups and Iranian migrants hold a demonstration in support of Iranian women following the death in Iran of 22-year-old Masha Amini, in Santiago, Chile, on October 7, 2022. (Martin Bernetti/AFP)

PARIS — Schoolgirls chanted slogans, workers went on strike and street clashes erupted across Iran on Saturday, as protests over the death of Mahsa Amini entered a fourth week in defiance of a bloody crackdown.

Anger flared after the 22-year-old Iranian Kurd’s death on September 16, three days after she was arrested in Tehran by the notorious morality police for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.

Iran said Friday an investigation found Amini had died of a longstanding illness rather than “blows” to the head, despite her family reportedly saying she had previously been healthy.

But the protests continued Saturday even as ultra-conservative Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi posed for a group photograph with female students at Tehran’s Al-Zahra University to mark the start of the academic year.

He called for unity and vowed that the efforts of “ill-wishers” would be thwarted.

Videos and pictures published on social media apparently showed students outside the university taking off and waving their hijabs, and denouncing Raisi and the regime.

In Amini’s hometown Saqez, in the western province of Kurdistan, schoolgirls were heard chanting “Woman, life, freedom” and seen marching down a street swinging headscarves over their heads, in videos the Hengaw rights group said were recorded on Saturday.

In another video it shared, a group of girls could be heard chanting the same phrase — the catchcry of the protests — as they entered a school in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province.

Despite internet restrictions designed to impede gatherings and prevent images of the crackdown getting out, protesters have adopted new tactics to get their message across.

“We are not afraid anymore. We will fight,” said a large banner placed on an overpass of the Modares highway that cuts through central Tehran, according to online images verified by AFP.

‘Widespread strikes’

In another widely shared video, a man is seen altering the wording of a large government billboard from “The police are the servants of the people” to “The police are the murderers of the people.”

The ISNA news agency reported a heavy security presence in the capital, especially near universities. It said “scattered and limited gatherings” were held in Tehran during which “some demonstrators destroyed public property”.

Street protests were also reported in Isfahan, Karaj, Shiraz and Tabriz, among other cities.

US-based campaigner and journalist Omid Memarian tweeted: “Videos coming out from Tehran indicate that there are so many protests, in every corner of the city, in small and big numbers.”

Hengaw, a Kurdish rights group based in Norway, said “widespread strikes” were taking place in Saqez, Sanandaj and Divandarreh, in Kurdistan province, as well as Mahabad in West Azerbaijan province.

Shots could be heard as protesters clashed with security forces on a street in Sanandaj, in a video shared by the 1500tasvir social media channel that monitors violations in the Islamic republic.

The same source said there were protests in the southern city of Shiraz.

It also shared a verified video of a demonstration in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, as well as footage of drivers honking car horns in the southern city of Kerman as dozens of people gathered on the roadside.

AFP was unable to immediately verify other footage from 1500tasvir.

Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights says at least 92 protesters have been killed in the crackdown, which has fueled tensions between Iran and the West, especially its arch-enemy, the United States.

Raisi — an ultraconservative who in July called for the mobilization of all state institutions to enforce hijab rules — appealed for unity.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is surrounded by a group of lawmakers after defending his proposed labor minister in a vote of confidence session at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, October 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

“Despite all the efforts of ill-wishers, the strong and hardworking people of Islamic Iran will overcome the problems ahead with unity and cohesion,” he was quoted as saying Saturday on the presidency’s website.

Arbitrary detentions

Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stirring up the protests, and last week announced that nine foreign nationals — including from France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the Netherlands — had been arrested.

On Friday, the French government advised its nationals visiting Iran to “leave the country as soon as possible,” citing the risk of arbitrary detention.

The Dutch government advised its citizens to avoid traveling to the Islamic Republic or to leave when they can do so safely.

“In many towns in the country, there may be demonstrations which can turn violent. The demonstrations are increasing,” it said in a statement.

“The police sometimes act harshly and in an arbitrary fashion… Iranian authorities can also arbitrarily detain people with a foreign nationality.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian charity worker who was held in Tehran for six years until her release in March, called on the UK government to act over Iran’s human rights abuses, in an interview aired Saturday on Britain’s Sky News.

“I want the [UK government] to observe what is happening, not to turn a blind eye. I want them to protect us. We cannot be indifferent about what is happening in Iran,” she said.

“And if we talk about protecting rights of our citizens, we have to do something about it. And I think we have to hold Iran accountable.”

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