New protests erupted in Iran on Sunday at universities and in the largely Kurdish northwest, keeping a seven-week anti-regime movement going even in the face of a fierce crackdown.
The protests, triggered in mid-September by the death of Mahsa Amini after she was arrested for allegedly breaching strict dress rules for women, have evolved into the biggest challenge for the clerical leadership since the 1979 revolution.
Unlike demonstrations in November 2019, they have been nationwide, spread across social classes, universities, the streets and even schools, showing no sign of letting up even as the death toll ticks towards 200, according to one rights group.
Another rights group, Norway-based Hengaw, said security forces opened fire on Sunday at a protest in Marivan, a town in Kurdistan province, wounding 35 people. It was not immediately possible to verify the toll.
The latest protest was sparked by the death in Tehran of a Kurdish student from Marivan, Nasrin Ghadri, who according to Hengaw died on Saturday after being beaten over the head by police. Iranian authorities have not yet commented on the cause of her death.
Hengaw said she was buried at dawn without a funeral ceremony on the insistence of the authorities who feared the event could become a protest flashpoint. Authorities subsequently sent reinforcements to the area, it added.
Kurdish-populated regions have been the crucible of protests since the death of Amini, herself a Kurd from the town of Saqez in Kurdistan province.
Universities have also emerged as major protest hotbeds. Iran Human Rights (IHR), a Norway-based organisation, said students at Sharif University in Tehran were staging sit-ins on Sunday in support of arrested colleagues.
Students at the university in Babol in northern Iran meanwhile removed gender segregation barriers that by law were erected in their cafeteria, it added.
The protests have been sustained by myriad different tactics, with observers noting a relatively new trend of young people tipping off clerics’ turbans in the streets.
IHR said on Saturday that at least 186 people have been killed in the crackdown on the Mahsa Amini protests, up by 10 from Wednesday.
It said another 118 people had lost their lives in distinct protests since 30 September in Sistan-Baluchistan, a mainly Sunni Muslim province in the south-east, presenting a further major headache for the regime.
IHR said security forces killed at least 16 people with live bullets when protests erupted after prayers on Friday in the town of Khash in Sistan-Baluchistan.
Amnesty International meanwhile said up to 10 people were feared dead in Friday’s violence in Khash, accusing security forces of firing at demonstrators from rooftops.
“Iranians continue taking to the streets and are more determined than ever to bring fundamental changes,” said IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam. “The response from the Islamic Republic is more violence.”
The protest crackdown has also for now consigned efforts to revive the 2015 deal over Iran’s nuclear programme to the back burner and intensified focus on Tehran’s ties with Russia – notably its supply to Moscow of drones used in the Ukraine war.
The protests were fanned by fury over the restrictive dress rules for women, over which Amini had been arrested. But they have now become a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since the fall of the shah.
Meanwhile Sunnis in Sistan-Baluchistan – where the alleged rape of a girl in police custody was the spark for protests – have long felt discriminated against by the nation’s Shia leadership.
IHR also warned that “dozens” of arrested protesters had been charged with purported crimes which could see them sentenced to death – up from only a handful earlier reported to be potentially facing that fate.
As well as thousands of ordinary citizens, the crackdown has seen the arrests of prominent activists, journalists and artists such as the influential rapper Toomaj Salehi.
There is also growing concern about the wellbeing of Wall Street Journal contributor and freedom of expression campaigner Hossein Ronaghi, who was arrested in September and whose family says is on hunger strike in Evin prison.
In a new blow, his father, Ahmad, is now in intensive care after suffering a heart attack while conducting a vigil outside Evin, Hossein Ronaghi’s brother Hassan wrote on Twitter.