Saturday, September 2, 2023

Iran intensifies crackdown before Amini anniversary, say activists


Iran Intensifies Crackdown Ahead of Anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s Death

As the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death approaches, Iran is reportedly escalating its crackdown on activists, campaigners, and relatives of those killed by security forces during protests last year. The death of Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, sparked widespread demonstrations against Iran’s Islamic system. Although the protests have largely subsided, there are concerns that the anniversary could reignite public anger, prompting authorities to intensify their repression efforts.

Arrests of prominent figures and activists have been reported in recent weeks. Mehdi Yarrahi, a well-known singer, was detained after releasing a song encouraging women to remove their headscarves in defiance of the law. Additionally, eleven women’s rights activists were arrested in Gilan province, a hotspot for protests last year. Amnesty International has also highlighted the arbitrary arrest and detention of families who lost loved ones during the crackdown, aiming to enforce silence and impunity.

According to Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), these arrests are an attempt to instill fear and deter further protests. Amnesty International’s report reveals that families of victims have faced abusive interrogations, arbitrary arrest and detention, and unjust prosecution and sentencing in recent months. Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, condemns the Iranian authorities’ cruelty and accuses them of attempting to cover up their crimes.

In a recent incident, security forces arrested three close family members, including the mother, of Hananeh Kia, a young woman who was shot dead by security forces during the initial phase of the protests in September 2022. The CHRI reports that within just eight days this month, 21 family members of victims were either summoned to court or detained in Iran. Roya Boroumand, executive director of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, notes that victims’ family members have been systematically targeted, facing repeated summonses, interrogations, and raids on their homes. They are also pressured not to post on social media, gather for commemorations, or speak out.

The protests last year broke long-standing taboos in the Islamic republic, with women removing their headscarves and demonstrators chanting slogans against Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Amnesty International’s separate report reveals that Iran has renewed its crackdown on unveiled women, deploying increased patrols and surveillance cameras to identify and monitor them. Despite these measures, some women continue to defy the authorities, as seen in images shared on social media.

Meanwhile, Iran Human Rights reports that 486 people have been executed in Iran this year, with capital punishment being used to create fear and prevent further protests. While some executions have sparked international outcry, most of those hanged are convicted on drug and murder charges, making them “low-cost victims of the Islamic republic’s killing machine,” according to the organization. The CHRI also highlights the detention of Mashallah Karami, the father of executed protester Mohammad Mehdi Karami, who was hanged in January.

Reports of arrests have also emerged from the Kurdish-populated area of western Iran, where Amini originated and where the earliest protests took place. Saro Mostajer, the brother of a board member of Kurdish-focused Hengaw, was arrested in Amini’s hometown of Saqez and taken to an unknown location. Roya Boroumand describes this coordinated repression as an attempt to prevent the dissemination of news, videos, and images related to the victims and to avoid renewed public mobilization both inside and outside Iran.

Hadi Ghaemi warns that the silence of the international community in the face of this crackdown risks giving a green light to Iran’s state security apparatus to continue suppressing civil society. As the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death approaches, it is crucial for the international community to pay attention to the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran and to support those advocating for justice and freedom.

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