ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iranian security forces have launched a new wave of arrests in the Kurdish province of Kermanshah. Around half a dozen cultural and civil rights activists have been detained in recent days, and a senior police officer admitted on Wednesday that 250 people are being held in detention.
Kermanshah province saw fierce clashes between protesters and security forces in November as hundreds of thousands of people across the country took to the streets to condemn government austerity measures intended to overcome Iran’s economic crisis.
Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN), which covers human rights violations in the Kurdish areas in western Iran, reported on Wednesday that the security forces arrested two activists. This comes after the arrest of six other activists in previous days.
Kurdish activists are often charged with links to opposition groups and labeled as separatists.
“Fouad Mozaffari and Farzad Sofrah, two literary and cultural activists, were detained in their homes by the security forces on Wednesday,” the Kurdish watchdog organization said on Wednesday, adding that there were two other raids in the same day but the activists were not present.
Tension is high in the city of Kermanshah after more than 20 people were gunned down by security forces during the November protests. Many others have been wounded. Agents from a number of intelligence agencies including the police, the Ministry of Intelligence and the Intelligence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have detained several hundred protesters from the province of Kermanshah. Wounded protesters who visited medical facilities were detained by the security forces and taken to detention centers.
“More than 250 ringleaders of last month’s riots have been arrested as a result of the intelligence surveillance of the Security Police,” the head of Kermanshah’s police Ali Akbar Javidan stated on Wednesday to the semi-official Mehr news agency. “The rioters are generally between 20 and 35 …several of them have admitted to links with terrorist groups and the enemies of the revolution.”
“Upon search of the hiding places of the ringleaders in Kermanshah province, more than 30 guns with a number of bullets were discovered.”
The authorities have also arrested a number of journalists from Kermanshah in recent days.
KHRN said that Houmayoon Abbasi, a Kurdish journalist from Kermanshah, was arrested on Tuesday in Tehran by the Intelligence section of the police. Abbasi was the editor of the political publication Zhilwan, which was published every month in Kurdish and Persian and circulated in Kurdish areas and in Tehran.
Iranian human rights activist and Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi said during a meeting in Brussels on December 12 that “Separatism is a label that the Islamic Republic uses to oppress the ethnic groups.”
Ebadi criticized the European countries for dealing with Tehran at a time that the security forces have launched a wide crackdown against dissent. “The least you can do is to make trading with Iran and the start of INSTEX dependent on halting the crackdown and the freedom of political prisoners whose demands are bread and job.”
Iran is under intense economic pressure after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord (JCPOA) and re-imposed crippling sanctions. The European countries are trying to save the deal by making a trading mechanism called INSTEX operational. INSTEX would allow Iran to use oil money to buy humanitarian goods from European companies.
Iranian authorities have refused to release figures regarding how many people have died in the protest and labeled the protesters as foreign-inspired “thugs.”
“Harrowing testimony from eyewitnesses suggests that, almost immediately after the Iranian authorities massacred hundreds of those participating in nationwide protests, they went on to orchestrate a wide-scale clampdown designed to instill fear and prevent anyone from speaking out about what happened,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa research director.
“At least 304 people were killed and thousands were injured between 15 and 18 November as authorities crushed protests using lethal force, according to credible reports compiled by the organization.”
US authorities have condemned the Iranian government’s handling of the protests and suggested the death toll could be as high as 1,000.
Speaking today at a State Department event focused on human rights violations in Iran, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed new actions taken against Iran, including sanctions against two judges presiding over branches of the Revolutionary Court and visa restrictions against Iranian officials and their families.