Iran indicts dozens for inciting ‘riots’ amid persisting protests

Tehran, Iran – Authorities in Iran say they have indicted dozens of people in connection with “riots”, as protests that erupted nearly a month ago over the death in custody of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, persist in cities across the country.

Ali Salehi, prosecutor general in Tehran, said on Wednesday that 60 indictments have been issued for “rioters” in the capital, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. Another 65 indictments have been issued in the southern province of Hormozgan and arrest orders were in effect for 13 more individuals, said local judiciary chief Mojtaba Ghahremani.

The officials said the indicted individuals, about whom no information was disclosed, were responsible for “creating illegal gatherings, arson, and violation of a number of government and private places”.

The indictments come after Iran’s judiciary chief, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, had earlier ordered courts across the country to fast-track the cases of those arrested in connection with “riots” while last week, a top security official had issued a stern warning to participants.

“Anyone who is arrested at the scene of the riots will not be freed under any circumstances until the time of their trial, which will be held quickly and will issue assertive and deterring sentences,” Majid Mirahmadi, deputy for security and police affairs at the interior ministry, told local media.

However, authorities have repeatedly said that “most” of the people – including students – arrested during the protests that began last month have been released after signing declarations that they would not participate in demonstrations again.

Many dozens are thought to have been killed, and more arrested, during the protests but Iranian authorities have not published an official tally yet.

State media, however, have released the names and pictures of more than 20 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the police and the paramilitary Basij force who they said had been killed during the protests. President Ebrahim Raisi and other top officials met or spoke on the phone with their families.

Many of the protesters are Iranian youth, with a senior IRGC official saying last week the average age of many of the arrested is only 15 years.

These protesters, some officials said, have taken to the streets after experiencing “excitement” created by social media and programmes by foreign-based channels.

Meanwhile, Mohseni-Ejei, the judiciary chief, has called for “dialogue” about the unrest, saying earlier this week, “Certainly if there are mistakes or faults from our side, we will use opinions relayed to us to fix them as we have no fear of correcting mistakes.”

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi said the government was in favour of holding “legal gatherings” and has tasked the interior ministry to come up with proposals on how to implement this.

Protests amid restricted internet access

Officials have said stringent internet curbs, which restrict access at certain times to messaging service WhatsApp and photo-sharing app Instagram, will remain in effect due to “security considerations” as long as the unrest continues.

Netblocks, an internet censorship observatory, reported a “major disruption” to internet traffic on Wednesday that it said would likely “further limit the free flow of information”.

But even with a delay, videos of the protests continue to circulate on social media, and people inside and outside the country use the online platforms to share calls for demonstrations.

Videos online and accounts by rights groups this week have shown intensified protests in Sanandaj, the capital of the Kurdistan province where Amini was from.

Amnesty International said it was “alarmed” by what it said were reports of “security forces using firearms and firing teargas indiscriminately, including into people’s homes”.

But the semi-official Tasnim news website on Wednesday published a video of streets around the town which, it said, showed Sanandaj was “in complete calm with no chaos or riots” on Tuesday night.

A report last week by the medical examiner’s office said the 22-year-old Amini, who died in police custody after being detained for “improper hijab”, did not specifically mention her cause of death, but said she had a brain tumour operated on when she was eight, and no blows were dealt to her head or other organs.

Amini’s family have refuted the authorities’ account that she was not beaten, and has also questioned the validity of the coroner’s report.

‘Targeting national security’

In his only remarks about the protests, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said earlier this month that the United States and Israel were behind the “riots and insecurity” across the country.

Authorities have also blamed separatist groups, with the IRGC repeatedly attacking Kurdish groups in neighbouring Iraq’s northern Kurdish region in recent weeks – saying it killed at least 30 “terrorists”.

Iranian officials continue to denounce what they have described as “foreign intervention” in local affairs as the US, Canada and some European countries have expressed solidarity with protesters in Iran.

“It’s surprising that combating riots is a good and acceptable act in Europe, but the same thing in Iran is considered a crackdown!” Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian was quoted as telling his French counterpart, Catherine Colonna, in a phone call on Tuesday.

“We won’t allow anyone to target the country’s national security either from inside or outside the country,” he said.

The French foreign ministry said Colonna urged Amirabdollahian to release several French nationals who have been arrested by Iran in recent months on charges of spying and fomenting unrest.

France had condemned Iran for airing “confessions” of nationals it said are “state hostages”.

Last month, the Iranian intelligence ministry said nine foreign nationals have been arrested during the recent protests.

On Wednesday, Ebrahim Hamidi, governor of the central province of Kerman, said one individual had been arrested for ties with Israeli intelligence.

The unnamed individual was a trader, had made several trips outside the country to transfer information and receive training on “anti-security and sabotage acts” and was arrested when trying to exit the country, he said.

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