Tens of thousands of Iranians across the country defied phalanxes of security forces to demonstrate and protest against the mullahs’ rule on Wednesday, the religiously powerful and politically symbolic 40th day since Mahsa Amini’s death while in custody by the morality police.
In the central Iranian city of Shiraz, at least 15 people were killed in unclear circumstances after gunmen attacked a shrine, according to state media. Two suspected “terrorists” have been arrested and another was being prosecuted, according to other reports.
The week-long movement born out of Amini’s death is rooted in opposition to Islamic social rule and led by mostly secular Iranians, and among observers and activists there were doubts about whether s would adopt the tradition of mourning the 40th day rooted in faith.
But opponents of the regime greeted the day with enthusiasm.
Most Iranian Kurds living in or near Amini’s western Iranian hometown of Saqez in western Iran could be seen walking for miles along highways and across fields to get to his burial site after regime forces closed or restricted vehicle traffic and threatened residents with gunfire since Tuesday night.
The video showed a massive crowd gathered outside the governor’s office in Saqez.
“Have no fear, have no fear, we are all together,” they chanted.
Demonstrations erupted on university campuses across the country, including in the capital Tehran, Mashhad, Tabriz, Hamadan and in high schools among teenagers returning home from class.
“The Basijis are getting lost! Basijis get lost! Women from al-Zahra University could be seen singing, referring to Basij paramilitaries terrorizing Iranian protesters, as they clashed with officials trying to prevent their movement.
Doctors and dentists, marking Amini’s death and expressing their anger at a detained fellow medical professional, flooded the streets of Tehran, only to be chased by law enforcement officers firing tear gas or shotgun blasts, according to a video posted online. A shopping mall in Vali Asr Square in central Tehran was inundated with young protesters, as was the traditional Grand Bazaar that was once the seat of commercial power.
“Freedom, freedom, freedom! they chanted, according to a video uploaded.
Even in Tehran’s computer bazaar, filled with Iranian yuppies listening to Western music and downloading the latest apps, techies in black beat their chests in a ritual of mourning.
“We will kill, we will kill the one who killed our sister,” they chanted.
The country has also been hit by industrial action. Workers at a Tehran refinery went on strike, as did shopkeepers in commercial districts in many cities, including Tehran, Shiraz and Arak. Workers at the Tabriz stock exchange also staged a work stoppage, ostensibly to protest against the state of the capital markets.
In the Islamic and Eastern Orthodox Christian religions, the 40th day after a death marks the passage of the deceased’s soul from earth to the afterlife. It is often marked by friends and relatives returning to the grave to pay their respects.
In the run-up to the 1979 revolution that led to the establishment of the clerical regime in Tehran, the commemorations of the 40th day of the dead protesters were marked by political demonstrations accompanied by shootings and deaths, and new demonstrations 40 days later, in cycles that created momentum leading to the fall of the country’s monarchy.
Analysts predict more unrest in the coming days as protesters also mark the 40 days of Nika Shakarami and Sarina Esmailzadeh, two young protesters who were reportedly killed by law enforcement.
“The 40th commemoration is a tradition more than a religion,” said Iranian activist Sharare Mahboudi, who left Iran three years ago after being watched by security forces. “Now Iranians will look for any excuse to protest, even if that protest is religious. And if they beat their chests in mourning and wear black, maybe the security forces will go a little less far with them.
State broadcast media mostly ignored Wednesday’s protests, even as dramatic footage of mass unrest flooded the internet and opposition satellite TV channels. The front page of Iran’s English-language Press TV website featured stories about the cost-of-living protests in France and Spain, but not a word about the unrest at home.
The regime responded to the protests with calibrated violence. At least 252 protesters, including 36 minors, have been killed in the violence and at least 13,533 arrested, according to Hrana, a human rights monitoring group.
The regime blames outside agitators for causing the unrest and has vowed to take legal action against the UK-based “hostile media” for supporting terrorism. He notably blamed the popular Saudi-backed Iranian television network as well as BBC Persian, as well as Manoto TV, all based in London.
“The UK and the entire London-based empire of lies are wreaking havoc and mounting psychological warfare” to keep the protests going, an editorial in the newspaper said. Javanese newspaper, which is linked to the Revolutionary Guard.
As night fell, garbage cans in central Tehran began to burn and streets in some neighborhoods began to turn into stone battles between security forces and citizens.
“It’s a revolution,” said Ms Mahboudi, who is in regular contact with protesters in Iran, including teenagers who defy their parents’ wishes and take to the streets daily. “It may take a year or two. Many people will probably die. The regime will kill anyone. They are ruthless. And they have nowhere else on the planet to go.