Iranian armed forces have imposed drastic security measures in the eastern city of Zahedan, where activists say plainclothes officers are traveling in vans, buses, and private cars to arrest people standing on the streets.
The Iranian authorities have cracked down hard on the nationwide protests triggered by the September 16 death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who was being held by police for allegedly wearing a headscarf improperly.
The demonstrations and state clampdown have been particularly intense in the country’s western Kurdish areas and the long-restive Sistan and Baluchistan Province, which Zahedan is the capital of.
"The people of Zahedan are imprisoned in a big military base,” says Ahmed Shirani, co-founder of HAALVSH, a group that monitors rights violations of the Sunni minority in Iran.
“There is complete military rule in the city,” he tells IranWire.
In the weeks of anti-government protests, security forces have killed more than 500 people across Iran, including dozens of children, and detained over 18,000, human rights activists say. At least 100 protesters are currently at risk of “execution, death penalty charges or sentences,” according to one rights group.
According to HAALVSH, at least 113 people have been arrested in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan. The group says it was able to confirm the identity of 54 of them, including a 14-year-old boy named Omar Kebedani.
“Armed forces are standing in the streets and sometimes they are in plainclothes and even in Balochi traditional clothes,” Shirani says. “Military and security forces are also stationed in bases and outposts outside the city."
Masood Raisi, the director of Resanknews human rights website, says the arrests are being conducted to intimidate residents.
"The situation in Zahedan is like martial law. Any group of three people standing on the streets will face a sharp reaction from the officers,” he said.
Each week on Fridays, hundreds of people are taking to the streets of Zahedan and other cities across Sistan and Baluchestan despite the heavy presence of security forces, chanting slogans against the Islamic Republic and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Zahedan has seen the deadliest violence so far in the ongoing nationwide protest movement. On September 30, security forces in the city killed 92 people, including 12 children, after firing live ammunition, metal pellets and teargas at protesters, bystanders and worshippers, according to IranWire sources. Four security forces were also killed that day.
Sistan and Baluchistan, an impoverished province that is home to Iran's Sunni Baluch minority of up to 2 million people. Human rights groups say the Baluch community has faced discrimination and repression for decades.