Iran’s crackdown on protests intensifies in the Kurdish region

Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Iran stepped up its crackdown on Kurdish areas in the country’s west on Tuesday as protests sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman detained by morality police rage on, activists said.

Riot police fired into at least one neighborhood in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kurdistan province, as Amnesty International and the White House’s national security adviser criticized the violence directed at protesters angry over the death of Mahsa Amini.

Meanwhile, some oil workers joined the protests Monday at two key refinery complexes, linking an industry key to Iran’s theocracy to the unrest for the first time. Workers called for another protest on Tuesday in the crucial oil city of Abadan, while others also called for protests on Wednesday.

Iran’s government insists Amini was not mistreated, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beatings. Subsequent videos have shown security forces beating and shoving female protesters, including women who have torn off their mandatory headscarf or hijab.

From the capital, Tehran, and elsewhere, videos have emerged online despite authorities disrupting the internet. Videos on Monday showed university and high school students demonstrating and chanting, with some women and girls marching through the streets without headscarves as the protests continue into a fourth week. The demonstrations represent one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 2009 Green Movement protests.

A video posted online by a Kurdish group called the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights showed dark streets with apparent gunfire and a bonfire burning in Sanandaj, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of Tehran.

Another showed riot police with shotguns moving in formation with a vehicle, apparently firing at homes.

A video posted later Tuesday reportedly showed a massive bullet hole inside the home of a Sanandaj resident, a hole Hengaw claimed was from a .50-caliber heavy machine gun — the type often mounted on armored vehicles. Another video allegedly showed security forces shooting randomly in the air while arresting someone there on Monday.

The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran posted another video showing what it described as a phalanx of motorcycle-riding security forces moving through Sanandaj.

“They reportedly smashed the windows of hundreds of cars in the Baharan neighborhood,” the center said.

Amini was Kurdish, and her death has been particularly felt in Iran’s Kurdish region, where demonstrations began on September 17 at her funeral there following her death the previous day.

Amnesty International criticized Iranian security forces for “using firearms and firing tear gas indiscriminately, including into people’s homes.” It urged the world to pressure Iran to end the crackdown while Tehran continues to disrupt internet and mobile phone networks “to hide their crimes.”

Iran did not immediately recognize the renewed repression in Sanandaj. However, Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to the United Kingdom, who sanctioned members of the country’s morality police and security officials over the crackdown.

Iran’s foreign ministry called the sanctions “arbitrary and baseless”, even as it threatened to potentially take countermeasures against London.

Jake Sullivan, US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, also noted that “the world is watching what’s happening in Iran.”

“These protesters are Iranian citizens, led by women and girls demanding dignity and basic rights,” Sullivan wrote on Twitter. “We stand with them and we will hold accountable those who use violence in a futile attempt to silence their voices.”

On Monday, workers held demonstrations in Abadan and Asaluyeh, a key hub for Iran’s massive offshore natural gas field in the Persian Gulf it shares with Qatar.

Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA claimed on Tuesday that the Asaluyeh demonstration was a strike over wages. Videos of the protests included workers chanting: “This is the bloody year Seyyed Ali will be overthrown,” referring to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei without his Shiite religious title of ayatollah.

On Tuesday, the Contractual Oil Workers Protest Organization Council claimed another strike in Abadan by posting videos outside the massive refinery complex in the city near the Iraqi border. The details in the videos correspond to each and to known features of the facility compared to satellite images taken in recent months.

It is still unclear how many people have been killed or arrested so far.

An Oslo-based group, Iran Human Rights, estimates that at least 185 people have been killed. This includes an estimated 90 people killed by security forces in the eastern Iranian city of Zahedan during demonstrations against a police officer accused of rape in a separate case. Iranian authorities have described the Zahedan violence as involving unnamed separatists, without providing details or evidence.

Iran’s judiciary spokesman Masoud Setayeshi said on Tuesday that Iran has so far released about 1,700 people arrested in recent demonstrations, without giving a total figure for those detained so far.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP

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