More than 200 people charged in Iranian province amid crackdown on protesters

Mohammad Nayeb-Zehi was among hundreds of worshipers who gathered on September 30 at the Great Mosalla, a religious site in the city of Zahedan in southeastern Iran, for Friday prayers.

Hours later, the 16-year-old’s family learned he was dead.

Nayeb-Zehi was among dozens shot dead by security forces in a brutal crackdown following anti-government protests in Zahedan, the provincial capital of Sistan-Balochistan province, home to the country’s Baloch minority.

“He was a simple worker and not a politician,” Nayeb-Zehi’s brother Ahmad told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda in a phone interview from Zahedan, adding that his brother had been shot in the heart. . “We are suffering and we cannot accept it.”

The crackdown in Zahedan came amid weeks of nationwide protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who died on September 16, days after her arrest by Iranian vice police.

Anti-government protests in Zahedan have intensified amid reports that a police official raped a Baloch girl.

In Sistan and Balochistan, public anger against the authorities has intensified amid reports that a 15-year-old Baloch girl was raped by a police officer in the southern port town of Chabahar. province.

The violence erupted shortly after protesters gathered outside a police station near the central Zahedan mosque. Members of the crowd chanted anti-government slogans and some threw stones. Security forces responded with deadly force, firing into the crowd from the train station, witnesses said.

Security forces also raided the Central Mosque and nearby Greater Mosalla and opened fire on worshipers using live ammunition, advocacy groups said, adding that many had been shot in the head, heart, neck or torso, revealing a clear intent to kill or seriously injure.

At least 94 people were killed and 350 injured on the day, called “Bloody Friday”, according to the American agency Human Rights Documentation Center in Iran. At least 13 minors were among those killed, including Nayeb-Zehi.

The victims were predominantly Baloch, a predominantly Sunni ethnic group that has long been disproportionately discriminated against by Iranian authorities.

“He was martyred inside the Mosalla as he held his prayer rug,” Ahmad Nayeb-Zehi said.

Nayeb-Zehi’s family first went to Khatam al-Anbia hospital in Zahedan, hoping he was among the injured. Later, they found his body in a seminary in Greater Mosalla.

“We entered a room there and saw about ten bodies,” Ahmad Nayeb-Zehi said. “[Mohammad] was among them.”

He said authorities stopped the family from filming the scene. “I told them it needed to be documented, it needed to be released by international media,” he said, adding that footage later emerged on social media showing the gruesome scene at the seminar.

The family refused to send Nayeb-Zehi’s body to the morgue. Instead, her body lay in the living room for about 24 hours before being buried.

“We said he was a martyr and there was no need for an autopsy,” Ahmad Nayeb-Zehi said.

“He was a simple worker and not political,” said Nayeb-Zehi’s brother Ahmad. “We are suffering and we cannot accept it.”

Authorities accused Jaish al-Adl, a Sunni militant group, of attacking the police station. The group is recognized as a terrorist organization by both Iran and the United States and has previously claimed deadly attacks in Sistan-Balochistan targeting Iranian security forces.

But local and independent sources have dismissed the authorities’ claims.

Authorities also reported a much lower death toll, announcing that only 19 people, including several members of the security forces, were killed.

Ahmad Nayeb-Zehi said authorities were “putting salt in the wounds of the people” by claiming “terrorists” were involved.

He said he saw a military helicopter fire on civilians near Grande Mosalla. “I haven’t even seen such scenes in Hollywood movies,” he said. “A helicopter was shooting at people. A lady was shot down before my eyes.”

RFE/RL could not verify their account. But activists have accused security forces of firing at protesters from helicopters.

“I don’t know what the intent of this crime was,” he said. “Our only demand of the establishment is for the murderers of our [family members] To be punished.”

The killings have sparked widespread anger in Sistan-Balochistan, one of Iran’s poorest provinces.

Anti-establishment protests have been reported in Zahedan since the crackdown, including on October 14 and 21, when protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers and chanted “Death to the dictator.”

In his October 21 Friday prayer sermon, influential Sunni cleric Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were “responsible” for the September 30 killings.

“We are surprised by the silence of senior officials,” he said in his sermon, posted on his website.

“Dozens of people were killed here for no reason. I don’t have the exact number. Some reported 90, some say less, some say more,” Ismaeelzahi added.

He also said that people will not be satisfied until “those who killed people” are brought to justice.

Iran’s Human Rights Documentation Center said the September 30 events constituted “a massacre of protesters by security forces.”

“The government’s complete denial of responsibility for the massacre of citizens by its security apparatus is consistent with similar previous denials and is proof that internal calls to investigate such crimes are insufficient,” the advocacy group said. of Human Rights, which documents human rights violations in Iran.

Joan J. Holland