A woman arrested by Iran’s security forces has been charged with communicating with and transmitting information to a London-based television broadcaster, Iran International, which Iran’s government has accused of fomenting unrest, local media reported.
Fars, a semi-official news agency, reported on Thursday that Elham Afkari was arrested as she tried to flee the country and that she was an “agent” of the broadcaster.
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Volant Media, which manages Iran International, told Al Jazeera in a statement that “Elham Afkari is not and never has been an ‘agent’ or employee of Iran International TV,” and that “the reporting of this by the Fars agency has no factual basis”.
The arrest comes amid one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s government since the 1979 Islamic revolution, with nationwide protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the so-called “morality police” for not wearing “appropriate attire” in September.
Saeed Afkari confirmed his sister’s arrest on Twitter on Thursday, adding that the whereabouts of Elham’s three-year-old daughter was unknown.
On Tuesday, Iran’s Intelligence Minister Esmail Khatib called Iran International a “terrorist” organisation.
Iran has accused its regional archrival Saudi Arabia of funding the opposition news outlet, which has covered the protest movement extensively since it erupted in September. Saudi Arabia has not commented on the allegations.
“Recently, the agent carried out numerous activities and actions in slandering the Islamic Republic, inviting youth to riot and creating terror among the people,” Fars said with respect to Afkari.
Dozens of people, including security forces, are believed to have been killed during the anti-government protests, but authorities have not published an official tally.
Demonstrators returned to the streets on Thursday to mark 40th-day remembrances for those slain earlier – commemorations common in Iran and the wider Middle East.
Online videos appeared to show demonstrations in Tehran, the capital, as well as cities elsewhere in the country. Near Isfahan, a video showed clouds of tear gas.
It was not immediately clear if there were injuries or arrests in the latest protests. State-run IRNA news agency acknowledged the demonstrations near Isfahan. The protests commemorated the September 30 crackdown by security forces in Zahedan, a city in the Sistan-Baluchestan province.
Meanwhile, Iranian officials have kept up their threats against the demonstrators and other countries Tehran accuses of involvement in the protests.
In an interview with the personal website of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khatib renewed threats against Saudi Arabia, along with the United Kingdom, Israel and the United States that officials have blamed for fomenting unrest that appears focused on local grievances. Khatib warned that Iran’s “strategic patience” could run out.
“Throwing stones at powerful Iran by countries sitting in glass houses has no meaning other than crossing the borders of rationality into the darkness of stupidity,” Khatib said.
“Undoubtedly, if the will of the Islamic Republic of Iran is given to reciprocate and punish these countries, the glass palaces will collapse and these countries will not see stability.”