Paris — Iranians staged new protests Thursday in defiance of a crackdown by authorities, as a rights group said an 18-year-old had become the latest teen killed in clashes in the northwest. Iranfor more than six weeks — sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini after she was arrested by the notorious morality police — in a movement that’s posing the biggest challenge to the country’s rulers since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The clerical leadership, under 83-yar-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has responded with a crackdown that, as well as killing dozens, has seen 1,000 people charged so far in Iran’s opaque court system. Activists say many of those detained could face the death penalty.
With the protest movement showing no signs of abating despite the authorities’ violent reaction to it, the problems for the Iranian regime have been compounded by the tradition of holding a “chehelom” mourning ceremony 40 days after a death. Every time a protester is killed, that occasion more than a month later can fuel new calls for protests.
The Norway-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR) said large numbers were attending the 40-day ceremony for Hadis Najafi in the city of Karaj, outside Tehran, on Thursday. The 22-year-old woman was killed by security forces in September, activists say.
IHR said police had blocked the highway leading to the cemetery to prevent even larger numbers attending.
“This year is the year of blood, Seyyed Ali (Khamenei) will be toppled,” video posted to social media showed them chanting.
Another teen reportedly killed
The Kurdish rights organization Hengaw said a number of protests had taken place on Wednesday in the Kurdish-populated regions of northwest Iran, where Amini was from, including the city of Sanandaj which has become a major protest flashpoint.
Hengaw said Momen Zandkarimi, 18-year-old from Sanandaj, was killed by direct fire from Iranian security forces.
Due to pressure from security agencies, which feared his funeral could turn into another protest, his body was moved to another village for burial, the organization said.
A bloody crackdown
According to an updated death toll issued Wednesday by IHR, “at least 277 people have been killed by security forces in the nationwide protests” sparked by Amini’s death since they began, including 40 under 18 years of age. Thousands have been arrested nationwide, rights activists say, while Iran’s judiciary has said 1,000 people had already been charged over what it describes as “riots.”
The trial of five men charged over the protests with offenses that can carry the death penalty opened Saturday in Tehran.
“The charges and sentences have no legal validity and their sole purpose is to commit more violence and create societal fear,” said IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, condemning the “show trials.”
Hadi Ghaemi, head of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, said if Iranian courts hand down death sentences, it would be a “blatant attempt to terrorize the Iranian people into silence.”
Activists condemned as a forced confession a video published by state-run Iranian media of Toomaj Salehi, a prominent rapper arrested over the weekend after backing the protests, in which a blindfolded man saying he is Salehi admits to making “a mistake.”
Freedom of expression group Article 19 said it was “extremely disturbed Iran state media are sharing forced confessions” with the subject “under clear duress.”
He is currently being held incommunicado under the control of intelligence agents in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, his uncle Iqbal Iqbali was quoted as saying by news website Iran Wire.
At least 51 journalists have been detained in the protest crackdown, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Fourteen are confirmed to have been released on bail.
Journalist Yaghma Fashkhami became the latest prominent figure to be arrested, his wife Mona Moafi wrote on Twitter.
There is also growing concern over the wellbeing of Wall Street Journal contributor and freedom of expression campaigner Hassan Ronaghi, who was arrested in September and according to his family is on hunger strike with two broken legs sustained in custody.
On Wednesday, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris saluted the “bravery” of the women-led protests, as she said Washington would work to remove Iran from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
“Iran has demonstrated through its denial of women’s rights and brutal crackdown on its own people that it is unfit to serve on this commission,” Harris said.