Workers at refineries that are key to Iran’s oil and gas production protested on Monday the death of a 22-year-old woman in what appeared to be an online video that escalatedfacing Tehran.
The demonstrations in Abadan and Asaluyeh are the firstsurrounding threatened an industry crucial to the coffers of Iran’s long-sanctioned theocratic government.
While it’s unclear whether other workers will follow suit, protests it comes as demonstrations rage in cities and villages across Iran over the death of Amini on September 16 after she was arrested by the country’s morality police in Tehran. The sound of apparent gunshots and explosions echoed through the streets of a city in western Iran early Monday, while security forces reportedly killed one man in a nearby village, activists said.
The Iranian government insists that Amini was not abused, but her family says soand other signs of beating. Subsequent videos showed security forces beating and shoving female protesters, including women who tore off the mandatory headscarf or hijab.
Online videos have emerged from the capital, Tehran, and other locations, despite authorities shutting down the internet. Videos on Monday showed university and high school students demonstrating and chanting, with some women and girls marching through the streets without headscarves, as the protests entered their fourth week. The demonstrations represent one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 2009 Green Movement protests.
Online videos analyzed by the Associated Press showed dozens of workers gathered at refineries in Asaluyeh, about 575 miles south of Tehran, on the Persian Gulf. This vast complex takes natural gas from a massive offshore natural gas field that Iran shares with Qatar.
In one video, gathered workers – some with their faces covered – chant “shameless” and “death to the dictator”. The chants were part of the protests surrounding Amini’s death.
“This is the bloody year when Seyyed Ali will be overthrown,” the protesters chanted, refusing to use the title of Ayatollah to refer to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The Ayatollah is a high-ranking Shiite cleric.
Iran has not acknowledged any breach of the facility, although the semi-official Tasnim news agency described the incident as a dispute over pay. Iran is one of the world’s leading suppliers of natural gas, after the US and Russia.
In Abadan, the city that once housed the world’s largest oil refinery, videos also showed workers walking off the job. The New York Center for Human Rights in Iran cited a statement it said came from the Oil Industry Contractual Workers’ Protest Organizing Council, which called for a strike for “suppression and killing”.
“We declare that now is the time for large-scale protests and to prepare for nationwide and retroactive strikes,” the statement said. “This is the beginning of the journey and we will continue our protests together with the entire nation day by day.”
The violence in western Iran occurred early Monday in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kurdistan province, as well as in the village of Salas Babajani near the border with Iraq, the Kurdish group Hengaw Organization for Human Rights said. Amini was Kurdish, and her death was felt particularly in Iran’s Kurdish region, where demonstrations began at her funeral on September 17.
Hengaw posted footage of what it described as smoke rising in a neighborhood in Sanandai, with what sounded like rapid rifle fire echoing through the night sky. People could be heard screaming.
It was not immediately said whether people were injured in the violence. Hengaw later posted a video online of what appeared to be collected rifle and shotgun cartridges, as well as spent tear gas canisters.
Authorities had no immediate explanation for the violence early Monday morning in Sanandai, about 350 miles west of Tehran. Esmail Zarei Kousha, the governor of Iran’s Kurdistan province, said on Saturday, without providing evidence, that unknown groups were “plotting to kill young people on the streets”, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Monday.
Kousha also accused these unnamed groups of shooting a young man in the head and killing him that day – an attack that activists have been vehemently blaming on Iranian security forces. They say Iranian forces opened fire after the man honked at them. Honking has become one way for activists to express civil disobedience, an action that has seen riot police smash the windshields of passing vehicles in other videos.
In the village of Salas Babajani, about 60 miles southwest of Sanandaj, Iranian security forces repeatedly shot a protesting 22-year-old man who later died of his injuries, Hengaw said. According to her, others were injured in the shooting.
It is not yet clear how many people were killed. State television last reported that at least 41 people had been killed in the demonstrations as of September 24. Since then, the Iranian government has not produced any information.
The Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights estimates that at least 185 people were killed. This includes an estimated 90 people killed by security forces in the eastern Iranian city of Zahedan during demonstrations against a police officer accused of rape in a separate case. Iranian authorities described the violence in Zahedan as involving unnamed separatists, without providing details or evidence.
Meanwhile, a prison riot hit the city of Rasht, killing several inmates there, the prosecutor said. It was not immediately clear whether the unrest at Lakan prison was related to the ongoing protests, although Rasht has seen heavy demonstrations in recent weeks following Amini’s death.
The semi-official Mehr news agency quoted provincial prosecutor in Gilan Mehdi Fallah Miri as saying: “Some prisoners died of their injuries when the electricity (at the prison) was cut due to the damage.” He also claimed that inmates refused to allow authorities access to the injured.
Miri described that the riot broke out in the wing of the prison where the death row inmates are kept.