TEHRAN — Protesters crossed Iran on Saturday as anti-government protests enter their fourth week.
Footage shared online showed Iranians on the streets of several cities chanting anti-government slogans as security forces engaged in violent clashes with protesters.
The unrest in Iran was sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 after she was arrested by the country’s moral police for failing to wear her headscarf properly.
Protests were reported on Saturday in many major Iranian cities, such as Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan, Mashhad, Qazvin, Kermanshah and Shiraz, among others, according to AFP and IranWire.
“We are no longer afraid. We will fight,” read a large banner placed on a highway overpass that crosses the Iranian capital, Tehran.
Meanwhile, several strikes have taken place in Kurdish towns in western Iran, alongside Mahabad in western Azerbaijan, with reports of security services firing on protesters in the area. town of Sanandaj.
Schoolgirls in Saqez – Amini’s hometown – took off their hijabs (scarves) and waved them while shouting “women, life, freedom” on Saturday, the start of Iran’s academic year.
University students across Iran also refused to go to class and joined protesters in the streets, according to IranWire.
Protests around Amini’s death have turned into a broader challenge to Iran’s Islamic government, which is deeply unpopular among broad sections of society.
Leaked medical evidence shows Amini received several severe blows to the head while in police custody, while Iranian authorities say she had a “sudden heart attack”.
Popular anger is widespread over many of the government’s Islamic-inspired policies, such as compulsory hijab for women, a faltering economy hit hard by sanctions and the violent response to protesters.
At least 154 people, including children, have been killed since the nationwide protests began, according to Iran Human Rights (IHRNGO), although the figure is likely much higher as many deaths go unreported.
Thousands have been arrested.
IHRNGO director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said last week that the killing of protesters in Iran “constitutes a crime against humanity”, urging the international community to “prevent further crimes”.
On Friday, fountains in Tehran were filled with red paint by an unknown artist to symbolize the blood that has been shed in Iran.
The authorities’ response has intensified since the protests began in September, cutting off internet and mobile data for long periods.
According to repeated reports, security forces used live ammunition and shotguns against protesters, in addition to rubber bullets and batons.
Ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi has blamed the unrest on outside forces, including the United States, while several officials have called on the security services to stop the protests.
At a press conference on Saturday, Raisi said the students would not serve the interests of “the enemy”, in reference to the United States, often referred to as the “great Satan” by the Iranian government.
“The enemy thought they could achieve their goals in the universities, ignoring the fact that our students and professors are vigilant and will not allow the enemy’s false dreams to come true,” he said.
Waves of anti-government protests have erupted in Iran in recent years.
In 2019, there were mass protests after the government raised the price of gasoline. Hundreds of people were reportedly killed in the ensuing clashes. —Euronews