By The Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Protesters in Iran confronted security forces on Friday in a southeastern city that has seen weeks of unrest amid nationwide demonstrations following the September death of a woman detained by the country’s morality police.
The city of Zahedan, where protests were initially sparked by rape allegations against a police officer, have become the deadliest area of unrest following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
The nationwide protests have raged across Iran, involving over 125 cities. At least 270 people have been killed and nearly 14,000 have been arrested, according to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran. They have also expanded beyond protests over Iran’s mandatory headscarf, or hijab, for women, into rallies against Iran’s clerical system.
Activists estimate that in Zahedan alone, nearly 100 people have been killed since a rally there on Sept. 30 set off a violent police response.
The demonstrations have become the greatest threat to the country’s theocratic government since the 2009 Green Movement demonstrations. Women continue to remove their hijabs during the street protests as international pressure grows on Iran’s government over its crackdown on demonstrators.
Videos of the protests Friday in Zahedan around the city’s Makki Grand Mosque purportedly included the sound of gunfire. Later footage showed streaks of blood on tilework and bloody palm prints in the mosque’s courtyard, with activists saying they feared two people had been killed.
Iranian authorities did not immediately acknowledge Friday’s violence in Zahedan, a city in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province that is located about 500 kilometers (310 miles) southeast of the the country’s capital, Tehran.
However, the state-run IRNA news agency carried a statement by the province’s security council earlier Friday saying that the police chief in Zahedan and another police official have been sacked over their handling of the Sept. 30 protest. The statement for the first time acknowledged that police shot and killed people praying at the time at a nearby mosque.
The security council’s version of the demonstration alleged that 150 people, including armed men, attacked a police station and attempted to take it over during the protests.
The “armed conflict, and police shooting, unfortunately, led to the wounding and killing of a number of worshippers and innocent passers-by who had no role in the unrest,” the statement said.
However, the statement claimed that only 35 people were killed, while activists estimate about three times that number were killed by security forces, who also allegedly fired on protesters from helicopters.
New protests took place in other cities as well, including in western Baneh, on Thursday night. Activists warned others had been killed by security forces. However, Iran’s government has not provided an overall death toll from the protests in weeks.
Gathering information about the demonstrations remains difficult. Internet access has been disrupted for weeks by the Iranian government. Meanwhile, authorities have detained at least 46 journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have repeatedly alleged the country’s foreign enemies are behind the ongoing demonstrations, rather than Iranians angered by Amini’s death and the country’s other woes.
Iranians have seen their life savings evaporate; the country’s currency, the rial, plummeted and Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers has been reduced to tatters.
The Associated Press