Rights group: 233 killed in Iran, protests enter fifth week

BAGHDAD (AP) – Protesters intensified anti-government demonstrations along main roads and in universities in some Iranian cities on Saturday. Human rights monitors reported hundreds of deaths, including children, when the movement entered its fifth week.

Protesters chanted “Down with the dictator” in the streets of Ardabil in the north-west of the country. Outside the universities of Kermanshah, Rasht and Tehran, students have mobilized, according to videos on social media. In the city of Sanandaj, a hot spot for demonstrations in the Northern Kurdistan region, schoolchildren sang “Woman, Life, Freedom”, along a central street.

Protests erupted after public outrage over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody. She was arrested by the Iranian police for morality in Tehran for violating the strict dress code of the Islamic Republic. The Iranian government insists Amini was not abused in police custody, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beatings after she was detained.

At least 233 protesters have been killed since the demonstrations hit Iran on Sept. 17, according to HRANA, a US-based rights monitor. The group said 32 of the dead were under the age of 18. Earlier, Oslo-based Iran Human Rights estimated 201 people were killed.

Iranian authorities dismissed the unrest as an alleged Western conspiracy, without providing evidence.

Public anger in Iran has merged around Amini’s death, prompting girls and women to remove the mandatory veil on the street as a sign of solidarity. Other segments of society, including oil workers, have also joined the movement, which has spread to at least 19 cities, becoming one of the biggest challenges facing Iranian theocracy since the 2009 Green Movement in the country.

Trade strikes resumed on Saturday in major cities of the Kurdish region, including Saqqez, Amini’s hometown and birthplace of the protests, Bukan and Sanandaj.

The government responded with a brutal crackdown, arresting activists and protest organizers, berating Iranian celebrities for expressing support, even confiscating their passports and using live bullets, tear gas and sound bombs to disperse the crowd, resulting in death.

In a widely distributed video on Saturday, Basij, a group of plainclothes paramilitary volunteers, is seen forcing a woman into a car and firing bullets into the air during a protest in Gohardasht, northern Iran.

Widespread internet disruptions have also made it difficult for protesters to communicate with the outside world, as Iranian authorities have arrested at least 40 journalists since the riots began, according to the Journalist Protection Committee.

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