Paris — Fresh protests erupted across Iran on Sunday at universities and in the predominantly Kurdish northwest, fueling a seven-week anti-regime movement even in the face of fierce repression.
The protests, sparked in mid-September by the death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest for allegedly breaking strict dress rules for women, have become the biggest challenge for religious leaders since the 1979 revolution.
Unlike the November 2019 protests, they have been nationwide, spread across social classes, universities, streets and even schools, showing no signs of letting up even as the death toll nears 200. according to a rights group.
Another rights group, based in Norway, Hengaw, said security forces opened fire on Sunday during a protest in Marivan, a town in Kurdistan province, injuring 35 people.
It was not immediately possible to verify the toll.
The latest protest was sparked by the death in Tehran of a Kurdish student from Marivan, Nasrin Ghadri, who according to Hengaw died on Saturday after being beaten in the head by police.
Iranian authorities have yet to comment on the cause of his death.
Hengaw said she was buried at dawn without a funeral ceremony at the insistence of authorities who feared the event would become a flashpoint of protest.
Authorities then sent reinforcements to the area, he added.
– ‘Fundamental changes’ –
Regions populated by Kurds have been the crucible of protests since the death of Amini, herself a Kurd from the city of Saqez in the province of Kurdistan.
Universities have also become major hotbeds of protest. Iran Human Rights (IHR), a Norway-based organization, said students at Sharif University in Tehran were holding sit-ins on Sunday in support of their arrested colleagues.
Students at Babol University in northern Iran have meanwhile removed the gender segregation barriers erected by law in their cafeteria, he added.
The protests have been bolstered by a myriad of different tactics, with observers noting a relatively new trend of young people throwing the turbans of clerics back onto the streets.
IHR said on Saturday that at least 186 people had been killed in the crackdown on Mahsa Amini protests, up 10 from Wednesday.
He said another 118 people had lost their lives in separate protests since September 30 in Sistan-Balochistan, a predominantly Sunni province in the southeast, posing another major headache for the regime.
IHR said security forces killed at least 16 people with live ammunition when protests erupted after prayers on Friday in the town of Khash in Sistan and Balochistan.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International said up to 10 people were believed to have been killed in Friday’s violence in Khash, accusing security forces of firing at protesters from rooftops.
“Iranians continue to take to the streets and are more determined than ever to bring about fundamental change,” said IHR Director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam. “The response of the Islamic Republic is more violence.”
The crackdown on the protests has also for now upstaged efforts to revive the 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear program and heightened attention on Tehran’s ties with Russia, including its supply to Moscow of drones used in the war against Ukraine.
– Ferocious repression –
The protests were stoked by fury over restrictive dress rules for women, for which Amini had been arrested. But they have now grown into a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since the fall of the shah.
Meanwhile, Sunnis in Sistan and Balochistan – where the alleged rape of a young girl in police custody sparked protests – have long felt discriminated against by the country’s Shia rulers.
IHR also warned that “dozens” of arrested protesters have been charged with alleged crimes that could see them sentenced to death – compared to just a handful previously reported as potentially facing that fate.
Along with thousands of ordinary citizens, the crackdown has seen the arrest of prominent activists, journalists and artists such as influential rapper Toomaj Salehi.
There are also growing concerns for the well-being of Wall Street Journal contributor and free speech campaigner Hossein Ronaghi, who was arrested in September and whose family say he is on a hunger strike in prison. of Evin.
In a further blow, his father Ahmad is now in intensive care after suffering a heart attack while leading a vigil outside Evin, Hossein Ronaghi’s brother Hassan wrote on Twitter.