Zahedan, in Sistan and Baluchistan province, suffered a bloody Friday on September 30. For several days, the province has been the scene of protests over the rape of a 15-year-old girl by a police chief in Chabahar.
Despite widespread protests, Iranian government officials have resisted yielding to any of the protesters’ demands. On the contrary, it is clear from the videos published on social networks that on September 30, when people gathered for Friday prayers in Zahedan mosque and demanded the punishment of the offender, they were targeted by the full might of the security and military forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The videos show local people gathering in front of the police station, where their protest was met by security forces shooting at them from inside the station house and from a circling helicopter.
The Baluch Activists Campaign estimated the number of dead at 58 and the number of wounded at 270, but emphasized that "this number is still increasing in different areas of Zahedan". State-affiliated media claimed 19 had been killed and 15 wounded.
IranWire understands that many areas of the city have come under the control of protesters, but security forces are guarding government buildings. “In the main streets of Zahedan, the IRGC is standing with its cars and armed agents to create an atmosphere of terror. A strong security and military atmosphere has cast a shadow over the city," a source in the city said.
The source said that the people of the province were angered by the police commander's assault on a 15-year-old Baluch girl. However, their protest was also related to the nationwide demonstrations started by women seeking to overturn the legal requirement to wear a hijab and modest clothing.
"People are fed up. They are tired of poverty, hunger, thirst, destruction of the environment and the policies of the regime to destroy the Baluch people along with the rest of Iranians."
"Baluch women, like other women in Iran, are at the forefront of this movement, and the news of the rape of a 15-year-old child was published by women activists. That ignited the protests."
Shutting Down Internet and Killing People
Iranian authorities have tightly restricted the internet and other communication networks in an effort to restrict the flow of information about civil disorder. Nevertheless, the source said that demonstrations had taken place across the city, not just outside the Mosala, the central prayer site.
“It is not just Zahedan,” he told IranWire. “Other cities are rising. I heard just now from friends that Iranshahr is under military rule and the troops are marching in the city. The same is happening in Chabahar. The people of Mirjaveh are also gathering."
He claimed that the regime is setting fire to banks and public places and blaming the destruction on protesters. “They say that people went to the police station with guns, but if you look at the videos, the only weapons they had were stones.”
Videos posted on social media show Baluch women, men, children and old people demonstrating in front of the police station in Zahedan. Gunfire can be heard; people in the crowd flee in fear of their lives.
"Most of the dead were children, teenagers, and some women, most of whom were in the Mosala and were martyred there," the eyewitness told IranWire.
Baluch human rights activists named some of the dead. The Rassd Baluchestan Telegram channel, which reports on human rights violations in the province, identified four of the dead as Yaser Shahbakhsh, the son of Taj Mohammad; Mahmoud Brahui, from Shirabad; Amin, a Badr al-Oloum seminary student; and Rafeh Narouei, 23, the son of Seraj.
Halvash news agency has confirmed the identity of two others as Jalil Rakhshani from Zahedan and Abdol Majid Rigi.
The state-affiliated news agency IRNA reported that 15 members of the security forces had also been injured in the clashes. The Tasnim news agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), said one of the dead was a commander of the IRGC Intelligence Organization called Ali Mousavi.
Differing accounts have emerged about how the shooting of citizens began.
Whereas human rights organizations and Baluch activists say that the security forces started shooting at people attending Friday prayers, with helicopters and from all corners, media close to the government say that forces opened fire only because armed protesters attempted to seize control of the police station.
Tasnim news agency claimed that "armed criminals attacked three police stations in Zahedan, terrorized the people and started shooting at police station #16 in Zahedan." It claimed that "elements opposed to the regime" gathered near the Makki mosque in Zahedan and started shooting at noon on Friday, and it was only after that, that the security forces arrived in the area.
A local source told IranWire that "after prayers, people were chanting slogans asking for punishment [of the rapist], when all of a sudden the soldiers started shooting from the turret."
He continued: "Plain clothes officers, a video camera and the helicopter were all present from the very beginning. Many people think that this attack must have been planned in advance, because it didn't even take ten minutes for the helicopter to appear over the crowd and start shooting."
Government pleas to Baluch clerics
An informed source who spoke to IranWire about Friday's protests says there have been reports in the Baluchi media and social networks of a rupture between prominent Sunni clerics, such as Molavi Abdol Hamid, and the protesters.
“The regime has lined up the mullahs to invite people to calm down,” he said. “If mullahs like Abdol Hamid do not help the regime, Baluchestan will soon fall into the hands of the people.”
However, the office of the cleric denied there was a rift and insisted that Abdol Hamid has not taken a position either in favor of or against the protesters.