SULIMANIYAH, Iraq (AP) — Anti-government demonstrations erupted Saturday in several locations across Iran as the most sustained protests in years against a deeply entrenched theocracy entered their fourth week. At least two people were killed.
Marchers chanted anti-government slogans and twirled headscarves in repudiation of coercive religious dress codes. In some areas, merchants shuttered shops in response to a call by activists for a commercial strike or to protect their wares from damage.
Later Saturday, hackers broke into the evening news on Iran’s state TV for 15 seconds, just as footage of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was being broadcast. The hackers flashed an image of Khamenei surrounded by flames. A caption read “Join us and stand up!” and “The blood of our youth is dripping from your claws,” a reference to Khamenei.
A song with the lyrics “Woman. Life. Freedom” — a common chant of the protesters — played in the background.
The protests erupted Sept. 17, after the burial of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who had died in the custody of Iran’s feared morality police. Amini had been detained for an alleged violation of strict Islamic dress codes for women. Since then, protests spread across the country and were met by a fierce crackdown, in which dozens are estimated to have been killed and hundreds arrested.
In the city of Sanandaj in the Kurdish-majority northern region, one man was shot dead Saturday while driving a car in a major thoroughfare, rights monitors said. The France-based Kurdistan Human Rights Network and the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, said the man was shot after honking at security forces stationed on the street. Honking has become one of the ways activists have been expressing civil disobedience. Video circulating online showed the slain man slumped over the steering wheel, as distraught witnesses shouted for help.
The semi-official Fars news agency, believed to be close to the elite paramilitary force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, said Kurdistan’s police chief denied reports of using live rounds against protesters.
Fars claimed that people in Sanandaj’s Pasdaran Street said the victim was shot from inside the car without elaborating. But photos of the dead man indicate that he was shot from his left side, meaning he likely was not shot from inside the car. The blood can be seen running down the inside of the door on the driver’s side.
A second protester was killed after security forces fired gunshots to disperse crowds in the city and 10 protesters were wounded, the rights monitors said.
A general strike was observed in the city’s main streets amid a heavy security presence and protesters burned tires in some areas. Patrols have deterred mass gatherings in Sanandaj but isolated protests have continued in the city’s densely populated neighborhoods.
Demonstrations were also reported in the capital Tehran on Saturday, including small ones near the Sharif University of Technology, one of Iran’s premier centers of learning and the scene of a violent government crackdown last weekend. Authorities have closed the campus until further notice.
Images on social media showed protests also took place in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
Other protests erupted at Azad University in northern Tehran, in other neighborhoods of the capital and in the city’s bazaar. Many shops were closed in central Tehran and near the University of Tehran.
President Ebrahim Raisi in a meeting with students from the all-female Al-Zahra University in Tehran alleged again that foreign enemies were responsible for fomenting the protests. He has made the claim without giving specifics or providing any evidence.
“The enemy thought that it can pursue its desires in universities while unaware that our students and teachers are aware and they will not allow the enemies’ vain plans to be realized,” he said.
Meanwhile, thousands of people in The Hague, Netherlands chanted and sang in a solidarity demonstration in support of the protesters in Iran.