Iranian security forces made dozens of arrests Saturday as protesters in the southeast commemorated the killing of dozens of demonstrators in the region one year ago, human rights groups said.
At least 104 people were killed, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights NGO, in what is known as “Bloody Friday,” when security forces fired on a protest in Zahedan, the main city of Sistan-Baluchistan province, on September 30 last year.
Baluch officials demand an investigation into the events that marked the deadliest day on record since protests started in the southeastern province last year. The Revolutionary Guard faces charges of shooting at protesters.
The Zahedan protests were sparked by the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code.
Activists have long complained that the ethnic Baluch population in Sistan-Baluchistan, who adhere to Sunni Islam instead of the Shiite branch of the faith dominant in Iran, suffer from discrimination.
Security forces fired tear gas and live rounds for a second straight day to disperse protesters who turned out in Zahedan to mark the anniversary, the Baluch-focused rights group Haalvsh said, according to AFP.
The group posted on its website that authorities arrested at least 128 protesters in the cities of Zahedan, Khash, and Mirjavah, noting that the identity of 31 people had been confirmed as of Sunday.
Throughout Saturday, businesses in Zahedan and other towns observed a general strike, it said, adding that “dozens” of people had been arrested.
The group also posted footage with the sound of gunfire clearly audible amid a heavy security presence in the city.
Security forces had already used live fire to disperse those protesting on Friday, wounding at least 25 people, including children, the Baloch Activists Campaign group said.
There was no immediate word on any casualties in Saturday’s unrest.
Meanwhile, seven prominent female political prisoners delivered a letter from Iran’s Evin Prison, commemorating the shooting of dozens of protesters in Zahedan.
Narges Mohammadi, an imprisoned Iranian human rights activist, said in a message on her Instagram account from Evin prison, “Bloody Friday is an important and influential turning point in Women, Life, and Freedom,” in reference to the slogan of last year’s protests.
She added, “On the anniversary of that bloody crime, it is the duty of every Iranian to stand in solidarity and participate in the defense of Baluchistan.”
On the eve of the protests, Iranian Intelligence Minister Esmaeil Khatib said that Iranian operatives have neutralized a chain of imminent assassination plots.
“The planned attacks were meant to target Sunni clerics, judges and officers within the ranks of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps,” the minister said, in an indirect attempt to justify the tight security measures imposed in Zahedan.
He then warned that the adversaries were aiming to create unrest along the eastern borders and urged authorities, both Shia and Sunni, to exercise caution, according to Fars, the IRGC-linked website.
Residents of Zahedan have held regular Friday protests throughout the past year, even as the protest movement dwindled elsewhere in Iran.
The city’s Friday prayer leader, Molavi Abdolhamid, who has been outspoken in his support of the protests over the past year, issued a new call for justice over “Bloody Friday,” telling the faithful to “know your rights.”
Footage posted on social media on Friday showed chaotic scenes as hospitals filled with injured, including children, while people on the streets sought to escape to safety amid the sound of heavy gunfire.
IHR said that the protests in Zahedan and other cities were again “brutally crushed” with authorities using “live ammunition, pellet bullets and tear gas against unarmed protesters.”