DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Volunteer members of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard could be seen on the streets Friday in western Iran as the country neared one year since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody, prompting protests that challenged the country's theocratic rule.
In Tehran, Iran's capital, and other cities, the public noticed a heightened presence of police and security forces that went unreported by the country's state-run and semiofficial media.
The demonstrations over Amini’s death on Sept. 16, following her arrest by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating the country's mandatory headscarf law, represented one of the largest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. A security force crackdown that followed saw over 500 people killed and more than 22,000 people detained.
Iran’s theocracy is trying hard to both ignore Saturday's anniversary and tamp down on any possibility of more unrest.
Video shared by Hengaw, a Kurdish rights group, showed what the group described as volunteer members of the Revolutionary Guard, known as Basij, in the city of Sanandaj on Friday. The Associated Press could not immediately verify the videos, though they resembled the wider region around Iran’s Kurdistan province, the same area where Amini was buried.
Iran’s government, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has blamed the West for fomenting the unrest, without offering evidence to support the allegation. However, the protests found fuel in the widespread economic pain that Iran’s 80 million people have faced since the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers after then-President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally pulled America from the accord.
International pressure remains high on Iran, even as the administration tries to deescalate tensions with other nations in the region and the West after years of confrontation.
From the White House, President Joe Biden issued a lengthy statement on Friday acknowledging the anniversary of Amini's death, while the United States also issued new sanctions on Iranian officials and entities.
“Jill and I join people around the world in remembering her — and every brave Iranian citizen who has been killed, wounded or imprisoned by the Iranian regime for peacefully demanding democracy and their basic human dignity,” Biden said. “Iranians alone will determine the fate of their country, but, the United States remains committed to standing with them — including providing tools to support Iranians’ ability to advocate for their own future.”
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also noted the anniversary as he announced new sanctions targeting Iran's minister of culture and Islamic guidance, as well as Tehran's mayor and a police spokesman.
“A year on from Mahsa Amini’s tragic death at the hands of Iran’s Morality Police, I commend the bravery of Iranian women as they continue to fight for fundamental freedoms," Cleverly said in a statement. “Today’s sanctions on those responsible for Iran’s oppressive laws send a clear message that the U.K. and our partners will continue to stand with Iranian women and call out the repression it is inflicting on its own people.”