(Reuters) – Iranian security forces were deployed on Friday in Saqez, Mahsa Amini’s hometown, in anticipation of a surge this weekend in protests marking the first anniversary of the young woman’s death, according to witnesses, posts on social media and human rights groups.
“There is a strong presence of security forces in Saqez,” a human rights activist told Reuters. Another added that a small group of protesters chanted anti-government slogans before quickly dispersing.
The two activists preferred to remain anonymous, citing fear of reprisals from the government amid increasing repression of dissent as the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death approaches.
The death in custody of the 22-year-old Kurdish woman on September 16, 2022, arrested for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code, sparked months of anti-government protests, which have become the largest opposition movement to the authorities Iranians for years.
Many demonstrators, at the forefront of whom were often women and young people, demanded an end to more than four decades of Shiite clerical rule. More than 500 people, including 71 minors, were killed, hundreds injured and thousands arrested in unrest ultimately crushed by security forces, according to human rights groups.
The Norway-based human rights organization Hengaw said in a statement that several Kurdish towns in western Iran “have experienced an atmosphere of intimidation and the declaration of a state of war in recent days. The organization said many citizens had been arrested and the fate of many others remained unknown.
Military personnel were positioned atop Tapeh Qawkh, a hill overlooking Saqez, according to Hengaw, and residents witnessed an increase in helicopter activity above the town.
On social media, residents of Saqez said authorities had installed new surveillance cameras around the town, apparently to monitor and identify protesters.
Reuters could not immediately verify the claims.
In a report released last month, Amnesty International said Iranian authorities were “subjecting victims’ families to arbitrary arrests and detention, imposing cruel restrictions on peaceful gatherings at grave sites, and destroying victims’ tombstones.”
Security forces arrested Sara Aeli, Mahsa Amini’s uncle, on September 5, relatives told Reuters.
(Dubai Editorial report, French version Stéphanie Hamel, edited by Blandine Hénault)
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