ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Protesters appear to have wrestled control of a Kurdish town in western Iran for several hours on the seventh night of nationwide unrest hours after the government mobilized tens of thousands of people, mostly Basijis, to intimidate the angry demonstrators whom they call saboteurs acting in the service of western countries.
The Kurdish areas of western Iran (Rojhelat) saw fierce confrontation between protesters and security forces, as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence unit and the ministry of intelligence rounded up hundreds of activists and protesters in a growing wave of arrest. Dozens of students were detained in Tehran and other cities, including a number of well-known activists.
The town of Oshnavieh, known in Kurdish as Shno, reportedly fell into the hands of protesters as videos circulating on Iranian and Kurdish Telegram channels, verified by Rudaw English, showed thousands of demonstrators marching through the town with government offices, banks and an IRGC base set on fire.
Other cities, including the capital Tehran, saw intense confrontation. Posters of the late IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani were set on fire in the Kurdish areas, sparking harsh response from IRGC-affiliated channels on twitter, threatening retaliation. On Friday dozens of military marches were held across the country to mark the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war but also to project the power of the IRGC and the security forces as the protest continued.
The protests have seen no sign of subsiding despite the strong language from the officials including President Ebrahim Raisi. If they have criticism and want to talk, that is fine, but riot, undermining the state security and people, no one will put up with that, Raisi said at Tehran airport after returning from the UN General Assembly annual meeting in New York. The head of the IRGC, Hossein Salami, also visited members of the Guard's militia called Basij who were wounded during the confrontation in Tehran.
Ahmad Vahidi, the former commander of the IRGC Quds Force and the current interior minister, maintained the usual rhetoric on state TV claiming Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, whose death in detention sparked protests, was not mistreated and that the family had accepted this conclusion. However her father, Amjad Amini, told Rudaw TV last week that the government was not telling the truth about the circumstances surrounding his daughter's death on September 16, and accused the authorities of mistreating her while in detention.
The assumption of the enemy is void , they think that they can get rid of this state with these riots, this is a childish mentality, Vahidi told Iran state TV. This establishment has stayed since the beginning of the revolution despite all the threats and terrorist groups.
There is currently no exact number of how many protesters have been killed as authorities have shut down internet access in Iran, curtailing the spread of information. Kurdish human rights organizations have confirmed that at least 18 people have been killed in the Kurdish cities, including anumber of teenagers. Kurdistan Human Rights Network reported on Friday that at least four teenagers aged 15 and 16 have been killed in the seven nights of protest in the Kurdish areas.
Shutting down the internet is a tactic that the authorities have used in the past to hide atrocities committed against protesters. On Friday, 20 members of US Congress urged the US government to improve sanctions exemptions to ensure Iranians receive communication technologies to circumvent gov surveillance.
We took action today to advance Internet freedom and the free flow of information for the Iranian people, issuing a General License to provide them greater access to digital communications to counter the Iranian government's censorship, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said later.
On Saturday hundreds of Iranian Kurds gathered outside the UN compound in Erbil protesting the death of Mahsa Amini and chanting against the authorities in Iran. The protesters set an Iranian flag on fire.