Human Rights Watch has reported mass arrests of Iranian women’s rights defenders by the regime ahead of the anniversary of Women, Life, Liberty protests.
The New York-based rights watchdog said Saturday that regime authorities have arrested at least a dozen activists and intensified pressure on a wide range of peaceful dissidents ahead of the anniversary of the nationwide rallies that swept the country beginning in Spetember 2022, following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody.
The uprising -- dubbed the Women, Life, Liberty movement -- has been the boldest challenge against the clerical autocracy since its establishment in 1979. The regime brutally cracked down on the antigovernment protests, killing more than 500 people and arresting over 22,000 others.
“Iranian authorities are using their go-to playbook of putting maximum pressure on peaceful dissidents ahead of the anniversary,” said Tara Sepehri-Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The arbitrary arrests of a dozen activists are aimed at suppressing popular discontent with ongoing impunity and rights violations.”
In recent weeks, the Islamic Republic regime has intensified its intimidation campaign to discourage potential unrest, detaining civil and human rights activists and students as well as harassing families of protesters who died during the crackdown, with reports coming from several provinces, including Tehran, Gilan, Kordestan, West Azarbaijan, and Esfahan (Isfahan).
At least 12 people were arrested in Gilan province this week, including five women's rights advocates, a photographer, a poet, a graphic designer, and three pharmacists. The General Intelligence Office of the province issued a statement saying it had arrested a network of 12 people “who were planning to disrupt security” and were participating in trainings aimed at a “soft overthrow” of the regime, without providing any evidence. Hengaw Human Rights Organization, a Kurdish rights group, said Thursday that at least 15 people have been arrested in Kurdish majority cities in the past few days.
The intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) intelligence organization (SAS) have been reaching out to individuals who were arrested during the anti-regime protests. They are warning them not to participate in any demonstrations on the anniversary of the protest movement, according to sources in Iran who spoke to Iran International.
On Thursday, August 17, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei held a meeting with a large group of Revolutionary Guard commanders and praised them for their performance - which has resulted in the deaths of 500 civilians with thousands more injured and tens of thousands arrested. So far, seven protesters have been executed, and several others face execution. Earlier in the week, hardliner cleric and member of the Iranian Assembly of Experts Ahmad Khatami issued a stern threat against any future protesters, saying that they would be met with forceful suppression, as if the current rounds of suppression are not forceful.
Sepehri-Far noted, “The street protests may have slowed down but the authorities are continuing their crackdown, targeting veteran civil society and human rights defenders,” adding, “UN member states that are in dialogue with Iran should put the rights defenders’ plight at the center of their engagement.”
In addition to arrests and other intimidation tactics, the regime is about to finalize a new hijab bill, whose details have already led to debates even among the regime officials. The enactment of stricter hijab measures is expected to re-ignite further protests. The uprising that was sparked by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini in September has made it increasingly difficult for the clerical regime to enforce the mandatory Islamic dress code.
To avoid the public backlash over the violent enforcement of hijab laws, the Islamic Republic has recently begun implementing a wide range of measures from public humiliation tactics to using traffic cameras to identify women without hijab.
According to a document obtained by Iran International, the regime has also banned gas stations managers from supplying fuel for women who ride motorcycles, which is forbidden in the Islamic Republic.
Political analyst Ali-Hossein Ghazizadeh said Friday on X that the Intelligence Ministry’s campaign of arrests and intimidation has been “unprecedented” even for the Islamic Republic. He noted that when a society is determined to revolt, security measures can only delay it for so long, predicting that “The people will return to the streets, with even stronger motivations to overthrow this regime. Motivations that the Islamic Republic itself is providing for them.”