A woman without the mandatory hijab passing in front of security measures in Tehran on the eve of rallies for the anniversary of Mahsa Amini (September 2023)

Security Forces Take to Streets In Iran, Bracing For Protests

Friday, 09/15/2023

As Iranians are bracing for rallies on the anniversary of Mahsa Amini, whose death birthed Iran’s biggest protest movement, regime forces have been deployed at strategic spots. 

Security has gone beyond precautionary measures just one day before the first death anniversary of Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini and the creation of the Women, Life, Freedom protests. Heavily armed military forces have been stationed in restive areas, particularly in Kurdish majority cities, and anti-riot police forces are mushrooming on streets of major cities. 

Social media is exploding with hashtags related to the uprising and walls of cities are replete with graffiti against the Islamic Republic and leaflets of calls for demonstrations are being widely distributed while the regime is exhausting measures to prevent huge gatherings.

Armed forces have an extensive presence in Kurdish-majority cities like the hometown of Mahsa Amini Saqqez as well as Marivan, Bukan, and Sanandaj, where anti-riot vehicles are stationed at main squares and Revolutionary Guard helicopters are hovering over these cities.

A heavy presence of security forces is also reported in the country’s metropolitans such as Tehran and Tabriz, where large demonstrations are expected to take place. In the capital Tehran, forces have blocked roads to the graves of the protesters who have been killed during the last year's protests to prevent commemorative events from morphing into anti-regime protests.

A scene of Women, Life, Freedom protests in Tehran

About 30 civil rights activists have been arrested only this week while several detained activists have announced hunger strikes in support of the expected protests. 

During the past few days, state media has reported the dismantling of several groups accusing them of planning to carry out “acts of sabotage and terrorist operations” across the country. The IRGC said Thursday that 25 members of one of these “sabotage groups” were arrested in the northern Gilan province, while on Wednesday, the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization announced it had identified and dealt “a blow to some members of a riot organization network" across the country. In its statement, the IRGC claimed the network's members were being funded by the US State Department and led by the Freedom House, a Washington-based advocacy group, and the Nonviolent Initiative for Democracy, a Massachusetts-based NGO. 

The IRGC commander in the western province of Ilam said a “sabotage group” was disbanded in the city of Abdanan, and the IRGC in the Alborz province said they rounded up protest leaders in Savojbolagh. In East Azarbaijan province, admins of a Telegram channel were arrested for encouraging protests.

Since the protests began on September 16 last year, about 600 protesters have been killed and tens of thousands arrested. According to the Oslo-based non-profit Iran Human Rights, Tehran executed approximately 697 people between September 2022 and September 2023, including seven for activities related to the protests. Iranian courts have sentenced another 10 protestors to death, and 82 are facing charges that include the death penalty. “The surge of executions in Iran shows that the regime is desperate, lashing out because its efforts to crush the nationwide uprising over the past year have clearly failed,” said Tzvi Kahn from the US-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 

During the past several weeks, the regime has arrested, summoned or harassed the families of victims as well as the protesters who were temporarily detained, threatening them against participating in rallies or events this week. In addition to firing dozens of academics, warnings have been given to professors, students, and workers of several organizations to discourage any acts that can be seen as a sign of solidarity with the protests. 

Human Rights Watch said on Friday that Iranian authorities have ramped up their repression on civil society for the one-year anniversary of the death in custody of Mahsa Jina Amini, calling on all delegations of UN member states meeting Iranian counterparts during the annual UN General Assembly this week in New York to raise the plight of activists and put it at the center of their engagement.

“Iranian authorities are trying to impose a chokehold on dissent to prevent public commemoration of Mahsa Jina Amini’s death in custody, which has become the symbol of the government’s systematic oppression of women, injustice and impunity,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at the rights group. “But Iranian authorities can't erase the mounting frustration, louder calls for fundamental change, and the resistance and solidarity in Iranian society in the face of mounting repression.”

On Thursday, the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran said the state harassment of women and girls is on the rise, as authorities are exacerbating punitive measures against those exercising their fundamental rights, including freedom of religion, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. 

“Since Jina Mahsa’s death in custody, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has failed to ensure truth, justice and reparations to her family, or to families of other victims, women, girls and all protesters who have been subjected to violations of fundamental human rights,” Sara Hossain, Chair of the Fact-Finding Mission, said. “Instead, the Islamic Republic is doubling down on repression and reprisals against its citizens and seeking to introduce new and more draconian laws that severely restrict further the rights of women and girls.”

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