Gunshots and blasts heard at Mahsa Amini protests in Iran

Government officials struggle to end demonstrations sparked by death in police custody of Kurdish woman

Gunshots and explosions were heard in the Iranian Kurdish city of Sanandaj on Monday as the protests over the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini continued to unfold across the country and for first time spread to Iran’s crucial oil industry.

Government officials are struggling to end the protests led by young Iranians, especially women, previously regarded as uninterested by politics.

The British government on Monday announced new sanctions against the entirety of the Iranian morality police, as well as its national and Tehran city commanders, following similar moves by the US and are expected to be followed by the EU in the coming days. Sanctions were also imposed on five Iranian police chiefs in part due to their role in suppressing November 2019 protests.

The violence in Kurdish areas on Monday morning reflects Amini’s Kurdish roots. Demonstrations in the region began on 17 September after her funeral. Amini died in custody after being detained by Iran’s “morality police” over her clothing. The state says she died due to a pre-existing condition for which she took pills, but her family lawyers say they have been denied access to the official investigation.

The human rights group Hengaw posted footage it described as smoke rising in a Sanandaj neighbourhood with what sounded like rapid rifle fire echoing through the night sky and people shouting.

During the protests in the neighbouring Kurdish county of Salas-e Babajani, a 22-year-old man called Arin Muridi was murdered, Hengaw claimed. He was hit by direct fire from government forces, it said. More than 120 were injured in the weekend protests.

Esmail Zarei Kousha, the governor of Iran’s Kurdistan province, alleged without providing evidence that unknown groups “plotted to kill young people on the streets” on Saturday, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

In an ominous development for the regime, more than 1,000 workers at the Bushehr and Damavand petrochemical plants carried out a threat to go on strike, chanting “death to the dictator”. Social media suggested the walk-outs then spread the Kangan refinery.

The government will be desperate to ensure Iran’s profitable oil industry continues in production, and such protests do not spread through the industry. In the past these powerful unions have rarely joined political strikes, and official state media played down the development, claiming there had been a temporary problem over the late payment of wages.

Deaths were also reported by officials after a riot broke out at Lakan prison in Rasht. Officials claimed the incident was precipitated by a dispute between two prisoners but there have also been reports of political activity in the facility in recent days.

For the third time since the unrest started, members of the medical community issued a statement demanding security forces show greater restraint, saying protesters were being taken out of ambulances and beaten up with batons.

The Iranian official press countered by publishing the names of 24 security officials they claimed had been killed by rioters since the protests started.

Lawyers in Iran also hit back at a statement from the interior ministry that they would from now on hand out exemplary sentences to those convicted of rioting. They said all cases had to be treated on an individual basis, and it was the heavy handedness of the legal process that had led to the troubles.

In some parts of Tehran on Sunday the bazaar was closed and teargas used to disperse the fast-moving protesters.

Overall, the Iranian reformist press appeared more willing to risk censorship and reprisals by opening a debate on how the government had lost the support and trust of a younger generation of mainly middle-class youth angry at the compulsory hijab and other restrictions on their daily lives.

The government has reiterated that the protests are either being exaggerated or generated by partisan Farsi media, such as BBC Persian, that broadcasts into the country. It accuses BBC Farsi and Iran International of feeding a diet of lies.

However, social media showed students chanting: “This is not a protest, this is a revolution”, “poverty corruption and injustice, shame on this tyranny” and “don’t think it is only today, we are going to come out every day”.

The husband of the Iranian reporter Niloufar Hamedi, who helped break the story about the death of Amini, said his wife was still being held in jail 18 days after she was arrested. She is said to be under questioning but has not been charged.

At its weekly press conference in Tehran, the Iranian foreign ministry also issued a demand that its embassies in Europe should be better protected.

The Iranian embassy in London on Sunday was entered by at least two protesters and the Iranian flag taken from its flagpole. The state news agency IRNA quoted police in London as saying: “At around 18:30 on Sunday October 9, a group approached the Iranian embassy. Two men went to the balcony above the front door, removed the flag and installed a replacement flag.” Five arrests have been made, according to reports.


Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

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