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Source: Washington Post

Mar 15, 2023

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

Anti-government protests broke out in several cities across Iran on Tuesday, spurred by an annual festival linked to the Persian new year next week.Protesters used the occasion of Chaharshanbe Suri — a celebration with Zoroastrian roots that includes jumping over a fire — to take to the streets and chant anti-government slogans, according to videos posted online.

The Washington Post could not independently verify the authenticity of the videos, which showed protests in Tehran, Rasht, Karaj, Gorgan, Arak and several cities in the Kurdish region of western Iran.

One video showed a handful of women burning their scarves on a bonfire in Tehran, while another showed people throwing fireworks at a group of security forces on motorcycles. In a separate video, a group also in the capital is burning a picture of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, chanting, “freedom, freedom, freedom.”

Iran’s theocratic government has discouraged the celebration of Chaharshanbe Suri for years because of its pre-Islamic roots and also because it gives people an opportunity to gather and criticize the government in public.

This year, the Chaharshanbe Suri protests have particular significance since the Islamic Republic has for months faced one of its greatest challenges since it came to power in 1979.

There had been a relative lull in protests in the past couple of months after a harsh crackdown which led to the death of more than 500 people and the arrest of nearly 20,000 as of late February, according to the activist news agency HRANA.

Four protesters were executed for allegedly taking part in attacks against security forces.

“People are very eager to protest again yet they don’t want to do it on their own,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “These occasions definitely provide a collective signal that this is a moment where people won’t be alone if they’re protesting.”

The demonstrations started last September after Mahsa Amini, 22, was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly wearing clothing that violated the country’s strict laws on conservative dress required for women in public. She later died in police custody.

A video posted online Tuesday showed people chanting “Death to Khamenei” in Saqqez, Amini’s hometown.

Last week, protests broke out in multiple cities because of outrage over the suspected gas poisoning of thousands of school girls in recent months. The suspected poisonings started in the holy city of Qom three months ago but have since spread to more than 20 provinces, according to CHRI.

The government has announced a handful of arrests related to the attacks without identifying a particular group that may be responsible. Activists and protesters say only the authorities or a group backed by authorities could have carried out organized operations on such a scale.

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