Tehran, Iran – Another round of counter-demonstrations have been organised in support of the Iranian state as protests that formed after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody on September 16 approach the end of their third week.
Pro-government demonstrations in northern Tehran began in the early afternoon on Wednesday and are expected to last several hours. Like the two previous rounds, they were announced via state media and mass text messages, and were expected to condemn “recent riots and the crimes of seditionists”.
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Wednesday marked the 19th day since the start of the protests, during which dozens have been killed and many arrested. The authorities have not released an official tally.
Ali Salehi, the capital’s attorney general, announced Tuesday that 400 people arrested in “riots” in Tehran have been released so far after committing never to repeat their acts.
A senior lawmaker briefed by intelligence authorities said the same day that an unknown number of “leaders of the riots” will remain imprisoned.
With the school year having started, videos of school children and teenagers taking their hijabs off and chanting slogans have been widely shared on social media.
Ali Fadavi, the second-highest commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said on Wednesday that the “average age of the many of the recently arrested is 15 years” and that many of them had fallen “victim” to a narrative pushed on social media and foreign-based outlets.
Meanwhile, the death of a teenage girl who joined the protests in Tehran has been widely shared on social media. Nika Shakarami went missing for 10 days just before she turned 17 before her family finally found her body in a morgue in Tehran. She had reportedly suffered severe head trauma.
An investigation into her death has been launched, but authorities have rejected allegations that she may have been beaten by security forces.
State-affiliated media reported on Wednesday that Shakarami’s body was found in the courtyard of a home after falling from the roof of a neighbouring house, and eight people who were in the vicinity at the time have been arrested.
University students have also featured prominently in the protests so far on campuses across the country. Riot police earlier this week surrounded the prestigious Sharif University of Technology in Tehran and arrested an unknown number. Officials have since said that “most” of the students have been released.
Online activity surrounding the protests has also continued, with Amini’s name prominently used on Twitter.
Judiciary chief Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei said on Tuesday that the time it took from Amini’s arrest by Iran’s so-called “morality police” in Tehran on September 13 until her collapse from an apparent stroke in a police “re-education” centre was less than an hour.
His remarks came in support of assertions by Iranian authorities that Amini was not mistreated or beaten, and suffered from pre-existing conditions, something her family have rejected. An investigation into her death is expected to yield results within days.
As the protests have continued amid lingering internet restrictions, top Iranian authorities have repeatedly condemned what they have called a “foreign presence” behind the unrest.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday said “riots and insecurity” in the country had been caused by the United States and Israel.
Officials have also condemned statements and sanctions by the US in support of the protests. The European Union has also signalled that it is considering human rights sanctions against Tehran.
“We are unhappy with positions and interventions by some European officials on recent events, and if the EU wishes to make a hasty and uncalculated move showing double standards, it must await the effective and reciprocating act by the Islamic Republic,” Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian warned his Italian counterpart in a phone call on Wednesday.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Iranian foreign ministry had summoned the United Kingdom ambassador, Simon Shercliff, for a second time in 10 days to “strongly condemn interventionist statements” by British officials.