The Islamic Republic of Iran saw a new outbreak of large-scale protests on Friday, this time localized in the province of Sistan and Baluchistan, home to the country’s chronically persecuted Baluch minority. Demonstrations were reported in the provincial capital of Zahedan and several other cities on the eve of what has come to be known to locals as “Bloody Friday.”
The protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers, despite extensive suppressive measures, including facing gunfire and tear gas. According to the National Council of Resistance of Iran at least 19 people, including several children, were wounded.
— People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) (@Mojahedineng) September 29, 2023
On September 30 of the previous year, Iranian security forces and the Basij militia, an affiliate of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, opened fire on the site of Friday prayers in Zahedan, killing approximately 100 of the people who had gathered there to protest government repression and human rights abuses, especially those targeting the Baluch in particular.
The protest and ensuing massacre came at an early stage of the nationwide uprising that was sparked by the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, following her violent arrest by morality police who objected to the arrangement of her mandatory hijab. The protest on Bloody Friday was understood to be part of the national response to Amini’s
Authorities anticipated the unrest in advance of Bloody Friday, and set the stage for its violent repression by, for instance, blocking off exit routes from the Great Mosalla of Zahedan. Consequently, many protesters found themselves trapped after authorities began firing live ammunition, adding not only to the number of shooting deaths but also to the number of deaths by trampling. According to informed sources including the intelligence network of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, more than a dozen children were among the dead.
The PMOI, or MEK, also kept track of the overall death toll from the regime’s crackdown on the Mahsa Amini uprising. It determined that across the country in the span of less than three months, at least 750 people were killed, including some 70 children. The MEK also found that upwards of 30,000 protesters were arrested, with dozens going on to face charges such as “enmity against God” and “corruption on Earth,” which can carry the death penalty. Seven people are known to have been executed on these charges so far, for their role in the uprising.
Activists and groups including the MEK have pointed to each of these figures when calling for new protests in recognition of the anniversary of the uprising itself and of Blood Friday in particular. The former, on September 16, saw reports of protests in various cities, with participants repeating defining slogans of the uprising itself, including, “Women, life, freedom” and, “Death to the dictator.”
Protesters in Zahedan also called for “death to the dictator” on Friday, and more explicitly “death to Khamenei,” in reference to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The also took particular aim at the Basij and the IRGC, likening them to ISIL and identifying them as instruments of a “regime that commits rape and murder.”
The anniversary demonstrations highlighted the particular plight and resilience of the region’s ethnic community, with many protesters chanting, “Baluch prefer death to humiliation.” But at the same time, they underscored the common cause that was recognized nationwide in the broader uprising, declaring to the general public, “Fear not; we stand united.”
The 2022 nationwide uprising was widely recognized as the greatest challenge to Iran’s theocratic dictatorship since it was established in the wake of the 1979 revolution. Though initially focused on the issue of forced veiling, it took on a broader political focus as it spread to over 300 cities across all 31 Iranian provinces, ultimately evoking a widespread public appetite for regime change.