Iran: Rights groups warn of crackdown in Kurdish Mahabad
Tehran, Nov 21: Kurdish rights groups and a prominent Sunni cleric critical of Iran's government on Sunday said the regime had stepped up suppression of anti-government protests in the country's Kurdish region, deploying troops and killing four demonstrators on Sunday.
Several people posted unverifiable images and videos online, saying they showed Iranian military vehicles pouring into the western city of Mahabad.
The Norway-based human rights group Hengaw said that military helicopters carried in members of the Revolutionary Guards to quell the protests in Mahabad, which were particularly intense earlier this week. Hengaw also said Iranian forces opened fire in the town of Marivan.
A prominent Sunni cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid, a powerful dissenting voice in Iran, called on security forces to refrain from shooting people in Mahabad.
"Disturbing news is emerging from the Kurdish areas, especially from Mahabad ... pressure and crackdown will lead to further dissatisfaction. Officers should refrain from shooting at people," Abdolhamid wrote on Twitter.
Hengaw said that at least four protesters were killed in the Kurdish area. Another widely followed activist group spoke of a teacher and a 16-year-old girl being killed. DW could not verify these claims.
Iranian state media did refer to the unrest in Kurdish regions but on Sunday only said that calm had been restored in the area.
Iranian strikes on Iraqi Kurdistan condemned by US
Also on Sunday, authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan reported Iranian military strikes against Kurdish groups across the border, events that could be linked to the unrest within Iran.
Iran's "Revolutionary Guard Corps have again bombarded Iranian Kurdish parties," the counter-terrorism department of Iraqi Kurdistan said, without mentioning if there were casualties.
The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) said Iran had targeted it using missiles and drones in two places, Koya and Jejnikan, near Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
"These indiscriminate attacks are occurring at a time when the terrorist regime of Iran is unable to stop the ongoing demonstrations in [Iranian] Kurdistan," the PDKI wrote.
Another Iranian Kurdish nationalist group, Komala, made similar claims.
Iran blames such groups for fomenting unrest within its borders.
US Central Command, which oversees US military operations in the Middle East, denounced the "indiscriminate and illegal" the strikes.
"We condemn this evening's Iranian cross-border missile and unmanned aerial vehicle strikes," Centcom commander General Michael Kurilla said in a statement.
"Such indiscriminate and illegal attacks place civilians at risk, violate Iraqi sovereignty, and jeopardize the hard-fought security and stability of Iraq and the Middle East," he added.
Iranians 'do not buy into this narrative' of Kurdish separatism
The nationwide protests gripping Iran began with the death in custody of a young Kurdish woman, Jina Mahsa Amini.
The demonstrations have been most intense in the areas where the majority of Iran's 10 million Kurds live.
In recent days, demonstrations in support of protesters in Mahabad have been seen elsewhere in the country.
Kamran Matin, senior lecturer at the University of Sussex, told DW that it showed how efforts by the Iranian regime to divide and rule in the country were failing.
"For decades, the Islamic Republic has invested in and actively promoted division between different nationalities and cultural regions and communities in Iran," Matin said. "And Kurdistan has been particularly subject to this policy."
Matin said this was "evidence that actually the people in other parts of Iran do not buy into this narrative of separatism, which is what the government is trying to propagate, that the Kurdish regions are dominated by separatist movement and these people want to disintegrate Iran."
"Despite that, we see that people immediately, from Tehran to remote parts of Iran, are coming out and expressing support for people of Mahabad who have come under intense military attack, actually by conventional military troops of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Matin said.
Two women actors arrested for not wearing hijab
Despite Jina Mahsa Amini being Kurdish, the identity of the protests has centered much more around women's rights and civil liberties more generally.
Amini was arrested for not wearing a mandatory headscarf or hijab, and some of the earliest protests began with women demonstrably uncovering their hair in public settings.
Her youth has also been a core feature of the movement, which had many roots in schools and universities.
Iranian authorities on Sunday said that they had arrested two prominent female actors, Hengameh Ghaziani and Katayoun Riahi, for appearing in public without their headscarves.
Ghaziani posted a video to Instagram captioned: "This may be my last post. From here on, whatever happens, know that as always I will stand with the people of Iran."
In the video, she appears with her hair uncovered, without speaking, then turns her back to the camera and starts pulling her hair into a ponytail.
Iran's captain speaks out in Qatar as coach is questioned at home
Iranian media also reported on Sunday that eight celebrities and politicians were questioned about commends they had made about the protests, including the coach of one of Iran's best-known football teams.
Yahya Golhommadi, coach of Persepolis FC, had criticized Iran's national team for not "bringing the voice of the oppressed people to the ears of the authorities."
This came as the team met with President Ebrahim Raisi ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.
On Sunday, Iran's captain did raise the issue. Ehsan Hajsafi said that Iran's players wanted to be the "voice" of the people back home.
"The situation in the country is not good and our people are not happy," Hajsafi said.
Iran play England in their opening World Cup match on Monday.
Other dissent has been logged in the sporting world. On Saturday, the head of Iran's boxing federation, Hossein Souri, said he would not be returning from a tournament in Spain.
"I could no longer serve my dear country, in a system that so easily sheds the blood of human beings," Souri said.
According to activist group Iran Human Rights, at least 378 people have been killed in the protests nationwide in total, 47 of them children.