Workers at the site of a major complex of refineries crucial for Iran’s massive offshore natural gas field protested Monday over the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, online videos appeared to show.
The demonstrations at Asaluyeh mark the first time the unrest over the death of Mahsa Amini—who had been detained by the nation’s morality police for breaking the law requiring women to cover their hair with a headscarf—threatened the oil and gas industry of Iran’s long-sanctioned theocratic government.
While it remains unclear if other workers will follow, the protests come as demonstrations led by young Iranians—especially women who previously seemed disinterested in politics—rage on in cities, towns, and villages across Iran over the Sept. 16 death of Amini after her arrest by the country’s morality police in Tehran.
Iran’s highest military body instructed all armed forces commanders to “severely confront” protesters who took to the streets, according to leaked official documents that revealed plans to systematically crush the protests at any cost.
The young Iranian woman whose death in police custody triggered worldwide protests was a shy, reserved resident of a small town who never challenged the country’s clerical rulers or its Islamic dress code, sources close to the family said.
Amini, from the northwestern Kurdish city of Saqez, died three days after she was arrested, provoking the first big show of opposition on Iran’s streets since authorities crushed the 2009 Iranian election protests in which 1,500 people were killed.
Early on Monday, the sound of apparent gunshots and explosions echoed through the streets of a city in western Iran, while security forces reportedly killed one man in a nearby village, activists said.
Iran’s government insists Amini was not mistreated, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating. Subsequent videos have shown security forces beating and shoving female protesters, including women who have torn off their mandatory headscarf, or hijab.
From Tehran and elsewhere, online videos have emerged despite authorities disrupting the internet. Videos showed some women marching through the streets without headscarves, while others confronted authorities and lit fires in the street as the protests continue into a 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 the refineries in Asaluyeh, on the Persian Gulf, some 575 miles south of the capital, Tehran.
The vast complex takes in natural gas from the massive offshore natural gas field that Iran shares with Qatar.
In one video, the gathered workers — some with their faces covered — chant “shameless” and “death to the dictator.”
The chants have been featured across protests dealing with Amini’s death.
Others show them gathered around the massive network of tanks and industrial features, as well as on a nearby roadway. The details in the videos correspond with each and to known feature of the facility compared to satellite photos taken Sunday.
Iran did not acknowledge any disruption at the facility, though the semiofficial Tasnim news agency described the incident as a salary dispute.
Iran is one of the world’s top natural gas suppliers, just after the U.S. and Russia.
The violence early Monday in western Iran occurred in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kurdistan province, as well as in the village of Salas Babajani near the border with Iraq, according to a Kurdish group called the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights.
Amini was Kurdish and her death has been felt particularly in Iran’s Kurdish region, where demonstrations began Sept. 17 at her funeral there.
Hengaw posted footage it described as smoke rising in one neighborhood in Sanandaj, with what sounded like rapid rifle fire echoing through the night sky. The shouts of people could be heard.
There was no immediate word if people had been hurt in the violence. Hengaw later posted a video online of what appeared to be collected shell casings from rifles and shotguns, as well as spent tear gas canisters.
Authorities offered no immediate explanation about the violence early Monday in Sanandaj, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of Tehran. Esmail Zarei Kousha, the governor of Iran’s Kurdistan province, alleged without providing evidence that unknown groups “plotted to kill young people on the streets” on Saturday, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported Monday.
Kousha also accused these unnamed groups that day of shooting a young man in the head and killing him — an attack that activists have roundly blamed on Iranian security forces. They say Iranian forces opened fire after the man honked his car horn at them. Honking has become one of the ways activists have been expressing civil disobedience — an action that has seen riot police in other videos smashing the windshields of passing vehicles.
In the village of Salas Babajani, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Sanandaj, Iranian security forces repeatedly shot a 22-year-old man protesting there who later died of his wounds, Hengaw said. It said others had been wounded in the shooting.
It remains unclear how many people have been killed in the demonstrations or by the security force crackdown targeting them. State television last suggested at least 41 people had been killed in the demonstrations as of Sept. 24. In the over two weeks since, there’s been no update from Iran’s government.
An Oslo-based group, Iran Human Rights, estimates at least 185 people have been killed. This includes an estimated 90 people killed in violence in the eastern Iranian city of Zahedan amid demonstrations against a police officer accused of rape in a separate case.
Amnesty International said security forces killed 82 people in Zahedan on Sept. 30, and that more people were killed in the area in subsequent incidents. Iranian authorities have described the Zahedan violence as involving unnamed separatists, without providing details or evidence.
Amnesty International previously recorded the names of 52 people killed across the country by Iran’s security forces between September 19 and 25.
Iranian security forces unlawfully killed at least 66 people, including children, and injured hundreds of others after firing live ammunition, metal pellets and teargas at protesters, bystanders and worshippers during a violent crackdown after Friday prayers on 30 September in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan province, Amnesty International said.
Since then, another 16 people were killed in separate incidents in Zahedan amid an ongoing clampdown on protests. Evidence gathered from activists, victims’ families, eyewitness testimonies, and images and videos of the protests suggest the real death toll from Zahedan is likely to be higher.
Protests in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan province, populated by the long-oppressed Baluchi ethnic minority, were also scheduled as a show of solidarity with nationwide protests and to demand accountability for the reported rape of a 15-year-old girl by a police commander in the province.
Widely referred to by Iranians as “bloody Friday”, the onslaught on 30 September marked the deadliest day on record since protests started spreading across Iran nearly three weeks ago, after Mahsa Amini died in custody following her arrest by Iran’s “morality” police.
“The Iranian authorities have repeatedly shown utter disregard for the sanctity of human life and will stop at nothing to preserve power. The callous violence being unleashed by Iran’s security forces is not occurring in a vacuum. It is the result of systematic impunity and a lacklustre response by the international community,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
Meanwhile, a prison riot has struck the city of Rasht, killing several inmates there, a prosecutor reportedly said. It wasn’t immediately clear if the riot at Lakan Prison was linked to the ongoing protests, though Rasht has seen heavy demonstrations in recent weeks since Amini’s death.
The semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Gilan provincial prosecutor Mehdi Fallah Miri as saying, “some prisoners died because of their wounds as the electricity was cut (at the prison) because of the damage.” He also alleged prisoners refused to allow authorities access to those wounded.
Miri described the riot as breaking out in a wing of a prison housing death penalty inmates.