Security forces in Iran have ramped up their presence in the hometown of Mahsa Amini ahead of the first anniversary of her tragic death in morality police custody. The increased security measures come amid concerns of potential unrest and protests marking the anniversary. Witnesses, social media posts, and human rights groups have all reported the heightened security preparations in recent days.
Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurd, died on September 16 last year while in custody after being arrested for allegedly violating Iran's mandatory dress code. Her death sparked a wave of anti-government protests that persisted for months, becoming one of the most significant expressions of opposition to the Iranian authorities in recent years.
During the protests, which saw women and young people at the forefront, demonstrators called for an end to the more than four-decade-long rule of Shi'ite clerics in Iran. The protests were met with a heavy-handed response from security forces, resulting in over 500 deaths, including 71 minors, and numerous injuries. Thousands were also arrested, as per reports from various human rights groups.
In Mahsa Amini's hometown in Iran's western Kurdistan province, rights activists have noted a significant presence of security forces. Witnesses have reported that a small group of protesters briefly gathered, chanting anti-government slogans before dispersing. These activists spoke anonymously, fearing reprisals from the government, as dissent has been increasingly clamped down upon in the lead-up to the anniversary.
There have also been reports on social media of security force deployments in several cities, primarily within Kurdistan, although these reports have not been independently verified.
A statement from the Norway-based human rights group Hengaw highlighted the "atmosphere of intimidation" in several Kurdish cities in western Iran in recent days, with numerous citizens detained. Hengaw also reported the positioning of military personnel on Tapeh Qawkh, a hill overlooking Saqez, and increased helicopter activity over the city. Additionally, residents in Saqez claimed that new surveillance cameras had been installed around the city, presumably to monitor and identify potential protesters.
Meanwhile, Netblocks, a web monitor, reported "significant disruption to internet connectivity" in the southeastern city of Zahedan, where anti-government protests were taking place on the eve of Mahsa Amini's death anniversary. Social media posts indicated that weekly protests occurred in Zahedan, with slogans like "Death or freedom."
Iranian authorities have consistently accused the United States and Israel, along with local agents, of inciting unrest to destabilize Iran.
On September 15, U.S. President Joe Biden acknowledged Mahsa Amini's influence, stating;
"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."
Biden reaffirmed support for the people of Iran, alongside U.S. allies and partners.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Nasser Kanaani, dismissed Western expressions of support for women's rights in Iran as "double standards and lies." He accompanied his statement with videos apparently showing the mistreatment of women by Western and Israeli police.
In response to the ongoing human rights violations in Iran, Britain imposed sanctions on four Iranian officials, while the United States sanctioned more than two dozen individuals and entities connected to Iran's "violent suppression" of protests.
Amnesty International's report last month documented Iranian authorities' arbitrary arrest and detention of victims' families, restrictions on peaceful gatherings at grave sites, and the destruction of victims' gravestones. In a troubling development, security forces detained Mahsa Amini's uncle, Safa Aeli, on September 5, as reported by relatives.
Numerous individuals from various walks of life, including journalists, lawyers, activists, students, academics, artists, public figures, and members of ethnic minorities, have been arrested, summoned, threatened, or fired from their jobs in recent weeks. These actions have been reported by both Iranian and Western human rights groups.
In August, Iran's Etemad daily reported that Saleh Nikbakht, the lawyer representing Amini's family, was facing charges of "propaganda against the system." If convicted, Nikbakht could face a jail sentence ranging from one to three years.