Iran: Security Crackdown Fears Grow in Zahedan as Anti-Regime Protests Persist | Iran

Protesters say they fear Iran’s security services may be planning an assault in the city of Zahedan, the site of a deadly attack on civilians last year, as reports surface of thousands of armed police on the streets.

Fifteen checkpoints were set up throughout the city, the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan province, last week and several people were detained by security forces.

“All the entrances and exits to the city have been blocked and checkpoints have been set up,” said Mohammad*, who is in his 20s and is one of thousands of protesters who march through the city every Friday after prayers. “We have no idea how many were detained and where they were taken.”

Several towns in Iran’s mostly Sunni Muslim province in southeastern Iran are now surrounded by security forces, Mohammad said. He fears that snipers will kill protesters “the moment we hit the streets,” a repeat of what happened in Zahedan just a few months ago in what it is now. Known as “Bloody Friday”.

On September 30, 66 people, including Mohammad’s younger brother and friends, were allegedly shot by snipers during a march to protest over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

Friday’s protests were peaceful, but Farzin Kadkhodaei, a Balochistan human rights activist, said everyone entering or leaving the city is now being searched. “They are looking at their phones, especially if they are young.” Most of those arrested do not have identity cards, he added. “There is no one to follow up on their situation.”

Kadkhodaei said the city feels like it is under siege. He said police began filming the protesters, including near the city’s Makki Mosque, whom they later arrested. “People are being kidnapped from houses, parks, and since January 1, they started making mass arrests,” he said, estimating that at least 114 people were kidnapped in the first week of January. “We don’t even know if they are alive or dead.” One of the detainees, Hossien Khashani, was severely tortured, he said.

Pro-regime media published a video apparently showing six recently detained protesters shooting at security agents.

The Guardian has learned that the families of those detained have been visiting the city’s courts in the hope of seeing their loved ones. “The release of minors who have been detained depends entirely on the state of mind of the guards that day. Some teenagers have been released and the rest are still in prison,” Kadkhodaei said.

One of the protesters, Shoaib Mirbaluchzehi-Regi, 18, has been found guilty on charges carrying the death penalty. They reportedly tortured him, stripped him naked and sat him down in front of a cooler. The interrogation officers allegedly forced him to confess that he belonged to a group of armed militiamen. When he denied the charges, he was tortured and denied legal support, activists said.

Sistan-Baluchistan province has “borne the brunt of the fierce repression of protests by security forces,” Amnesty International said, reporting that 18 people, including two children, were killed. killed by security forces during protests in the city of Khash on November 4.

With increased surveillance and disruption of Internet connections, Skylar Thompson, advocacy director for Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA), said it was difficult to verify what is happening in Zahedan and that while the situation appears dangerous, there are no indications that the city is under siege yet.

“We have no information that the city is under siege, but it is nevertheless the only place in Iran where protests are continuing,” he said. “It is true that the atmosphere in the city feels quite insecure. We have noticed that there are more checkpoints in the city. But I think this is due to the appointment of a new governor.”

mohammed karami, a senior commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in southeastern Iran, was appointed governor in December. “I think this has understandably increased fear in the area,” Thompson said.

Sara*, who joined Friday’s protests in Zahedan, said the heavy police presence will not deter her.

“The security forces have been attacking the Baluchi areas for about two weeks. This week at least 15 checkpoints have been established in and around our city. They are going to try to threaten us and we are not going to be afraid,” she said, adding that she has also lost family and friends during the protests.

He called the government of Iran “anti-human and anti-woman.”

“This government has discriminated against Baluchis, Kurds, Sunnis, Baha’is and other national minorities from the very beginning. [of the Islamic Republic]. But these discriminations are more painful in Balochistan. Because they are both Baloch and Sunni, and Balochistan is the poorest region in Iran.”

He said the authorities were deliberately trying to keep people in the province poor and ignorant, “because if they know their rights, they want their rights and this is dangerous for the government.”

*Names have been changed

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