April 14, 2024

Rights group claim authorities in Iran have arrested Mahsa Amini’s father and prevented her family from holding a vigil to commemorate the first anniversary of her death, amid reports of sporadic protests across the country despite a heavy security presence.

Amjad Amini was reported to have been arrested early on Saturday as he left the family home in Saqez in western Iran and released after being warned not to hold a memorial service at his daughter’s graveside, according to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN), the 1500tasvir monitor and the Iran Human Rights (IHR) group.

A report in the official IRNA news agency, however, denied that Amjad Amini had been arrested. The agency later said security forces had foiled an assassination attempt against him.

The death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman arrested by Iranian morality police last year for allegedly flouting mandatory dress codes, led to months of some of the biggest protests against clerical rule ever seen in Iran and drew international condemnation.

More than 500 people, including 71 minors, were killed in the protests, while hundreds were wounded and thousands arrested, rights groups said.

Iran carried out seven executions linked to the unrest.

As night fell on Saturday, a heavy security presence in Iran’s main cities and in mostly Kurdish areas appeared to have deterred large-scale protest rallies but human rights groups reported sporadic confrontations in several areas of the country.

Videos posted on social media showed people gathered on a main avenue in the capital Tehran cheering a young protesting couple as drivers honked their car horns in support.

One of Iran’s most high-profile prisoners, prize-winning rights activist Narges Mohammadi and three other women detainees burned their headscarves in the courtyard of Tehran’s Evin prison to mark the anniversary, according to a post on Mohammadi’s Instagram.

Outside Tehran, at the Qarchak prison for women, rights groups said a fire broke out when security forces quelled a protest by inmates. The Kurdistan Human Rights Network said special forces beat up women in the prison and fired pellet bullets. IRNA reported that a fire engulfed the women’s ward in Qarchak after convicts awaiting execution set fire to their clothes. It said the blaze was put out and there were no casualties.

Protests were also reported in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran, and in Mashhad, northeast of the capital. One video posted on social media showed a group of demonstrators in the Karaj neighbourhood of Gohardasht chanting, “We are a great nation, and will take back Iran”, while drivers honked their horns and shouted encouragement.

In the Kurdish city of Mahabad, rights group Hengaw said security forces opened fire, wounding at least one person. It also said several people were wounded in the city of Kermanshah but there was no official confirmation of either incident.

In Amini’s home town, the semi-official Fars news agency reported that police using a pellet gun had seriously wounded a man who “ignored a warning”. It said the man was in an intensive care ward after undergoing an operation, but provided no more detail.

Hengaw identified the man as Fardin Jafari and said he had been shot in the head near the cemetery where Amini is buried.

Al Jazeera could not verify the report.

Hengaw also reported a widespread general strike in Kurdish areas on Saturday, circulating video and photos that appeared to show streets largely empty and shops shuttered. Human Rights Activists in Iran, another group that closely follows events in the country, also reported the general strike.

But state media dismissed the reports, with IRNA saying Saqez was “completely quiet” and that calls for strikes in Kurdish areas had failed due to “people’s vigilance and the presence of security and military forces”.

The agency quoted an official in the Kurdistan province as saying: “A number of agents affiliated with counter-revolutionary groups who had planned to create chaos and prepare media fodder were arrested in the early hours of this morning.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, meanwhile, arrested a dual national suspected of “trying to organise unrest and sabotage”, according to IRNA, one of several arrests of “counter revolutionaries” and “terrorists” reported.

Demonstrations and vigils were also held outside Iran, with protesters gathering in Sydney, Paris, London, Rome, Toronto, New York and Washington, DC, to commemorate Amini’s death.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced that a garden in the French capital now carried Amini’s name. The mayor called Amini an Iranian resistance hero and said Paris “honours her memory and her battle, as well as those of women who fight for their freedom in Iran and elsewhere”.

The Villemin Garden that now also bears Amini’s name is in Paris’s 10th district, next to a canal with popular boat tours.

In Washington, DC, the capital of the United States, hundreds of protesters gathered in a park across from the White House holding portraits of Amini. Speakers led the crowd in chants of “Say her name … Mahsa Amini”, and recited, “We are the revolution”, as well as, “Human rights for Iran!”

In a statement on Friday, US President Joe Biden said, “Mahsa’s story did not end with her brutal death. She inspired a historic movement – Woman, Life, Freedom – that has impacted Iran and influenced people across the globe.”

The US, meanwhile, announced sanctions on more than two dozen individuals and entities connected to Iran’s “violent suppression” of protests, while the United Kingdom imposed sanctions on four Iranian officials.

Iran has blamed last year’s protests on the US and other foreign powers, without providing evidence, and has since tried to downplay the unrest even as it moves to prevent any resurgence.

In a report last month, Amnesty International said Iranian authorities “have been subjecting victims’ families to arbitrary arrest and detention, imposing cruel restrictions on peaceful gatherings at grave sites, and destroying victims’ gravestones”.

Many journalists, lawyers, activists, students, academics, artists, public figures and members of ethnic minorities accused of links with the protest wave, as well as relatives of protesters killed in the unrest, have been arrested, summoned, threatened or fired from jobs in the past few weeks, according to Iranian and Western human rights groups.

Iran’s Etemad daily reported in August that the lawyer for Amini’s family also faced charges of “propaganda against the system”.

If convicted, Saleh Nikbakht faces a jail sentence of between one and three years.

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