Tehran, Iran – At least two children are among more than a dozen people killed during the latest surge in protests across Iran, which have taken place on the anniversary of a previous round of protests three years ago.
Numerous cities across Iran saw chaotic scenes on Tuesday and Wednesday, the first two of three days of protests and strikes which were called online to mark the November 2019 protests, when hundreds were killed amid an internet blackout.
The deadliest incident took place on Wednesday night in Izeh in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, where at least seven people were killed in an incident that some users online blamed on the state and authorities blamed on unknown assailants.
Iranian authorities said two “terrorists” on a motorcycle opened fire on a crowd using an assault rifle, killing seven people – including two boys aged nine and 13 – and injuring nine, with two of them in critical condition.
Ali Dehghani, Khuzestan’s judiciary chief, said three people were arrested for being behind what he described as “riots” in Izeh.
At least six more people were killed in the central province of Isfahan. Three protesters were among the dead, and authorities said two members of the Basij paramilitary forces were killed after assailants on a motorcycle opened fire on them and fled the scene. A third security officer also died.
One Basij member and seven police officers were also reportedly injured as a result of the shooting.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, at least three protesters were killed in protests that erupted on Tuesday in three separate cities, according to foreign-based human rights organisations.
State media reported that three members of security forces were also killed during Tuesday’s events. Videos circulating online on Tuesday and Wednesday showed protests and strikes in dozens of cities across Iran, including Gorgan, Tabriz, Arak, Sanandaj, Mashhad, Kerman, Shiraz and Bandar Abbas.
In the capital, Tehran, videos appeared to show protests in many neighbourhoods, including in Shahrak-e Gharb in the western part of the metropolis.
Protesters closed the streets surrounding Sanat Square on Tuesday afternoon, chanting “freedom, freedom” and anti-establishment slogans.
Several videos showed unrest in underground metro stations in Tehran, with security forces firing and people falling and being trampled while trying to run in a panic.
Another video, which Al Jazeera has been unable to verify, showed police officers entering train wagons and beating commuters with batons.
Videos of closed shops have been circulating on social media from many cities. Many privately-owned businesses, including cafes and galleries, had announced closures from Tuesday through to Thursday on their social media accounts, without publicly citing strikes as the reason.
But state-affiliated media have questioned the strikes and their scope, regularly releasing videos from major marketplaces that show people shopping.
They have also claimed that organised gangs tried to force shops to close in some places, including the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, which the capital’s police chief visited on Thursday to ensure calm.
At least five people have been sentenced to death in cases linked with the protests, according to the Iranian judiciary. Hundreds have been killed during the protests, according to foreign-based human rights organisations, but Iranian authorities have not released official tallies.
The protests began shortly after the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly not adhering to the country’s dress code for women, in custody.
‘All the devils have gathered’
State media on Thursday released a previously unpublished speech reportedly made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last month, in which he does not directly mention the protests but praises members of the security forces who had been “martyred”.
“A martyr of security sacrifices his life for the security and tranquillity of the people, and all of these sacrifices are a manifestation of all the ethical values that lie in martyrs and martyrdom,” he was quoted as saying.
The supreme leader, along with other top officials, has repeatedly blamed Iran’s rivals, particularly the United States, for orchestrating the protests in an effort to break Iran apart.
In a speech on Thursday, Hossein Salami, the commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), repeated that claim, saying the US, Israel, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Saudi Arabia “have come to wage war against God and martyrs”.
“All the devils of the world have gathered together” against Iran in a “major conspiracy”, he told an audience in Qom.
Sanctions, UN resolutions
The US, the European Union, the UK and Canada have slapped a slew of human rights sanctions against Iranian officials and entities in relation to their response to the protests, with Tehran responding with its own sanctions.
The latest came on Wednesday when the US blacklisted six senior members of Iranian state television channels, accusing them of broadcasting forced confessions and acting as “a key tool in the Iranian government’s mass suppression and censorship campaign against its own people”.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron over the past week has repeatedly referred to the protests as a “revolution” and German leaders have denounced Iranian officials while supporting the protests.
Germany and Iceland also presented a request for a special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the protests, which is slated to be held next week.
On Wednesday, the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly approved a resolution censuring Iran for its response to the protests, which Iran’s foreign ministry has condemned as an example of “Iranophobia”.
In a separate case of ongoing tensions between Iran and the West, the US and E3 have also presented a draft resolution censuring Iran for insufficient cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which could pass this week.