State Massacres Fail to Crush Protests in Sistan and Baluchestan Province
Government Ignores Top Sunni Cleric’s Calls for Accountability
Massacres of protesters by state security forces in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan have not stemmed protests that began there in late September over the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by the police chief of the city of Chabahar, and which have since morphed into anti-state demonstrations.
At least 16 people, including children and an individual with disabilities, were killed in the city of Khash on November 4, 2022, by direct gunfire, according to top Iranian Sunni leader Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi, when local security forces tried to violently repress a protest where people chanted, “Death to the dictator!” and “Death to Khamenei!”
Footage shared online of that day showed four people among a crowd dropping to the ground amid sounds of gunshots in front of the governor’s office in Khash, which appeared to be on fire. One body that is dragged away appears to be bleeding profusely from the neck.
Other clips filmed outside a local hospital that day showed people carrying blood-splattered bodies.
In the city of Zahedan, at least 82 people have been killed, including at least 10 children, since September 30, according to Amnesty International, bringing the minimum number of Baluchis killed in less than two months amid the use of lethal force by the government to quell protests in the province to 98, though the actual number is likely higher.
Among those killed in Zahedan on September 30—at what has come to be described by Iranians as “Bloody Friday”—was 17-year-old child laborer Omid Safarzahi.
Government Ignores Calls for Accountability, Goes After Protesters
On October 27, state media outlets reported that Zahedan’s police chief, as well as the head of the 16th Police Station, had been fired because of their role in the killings of protesters on September 30. However, to date no charges have been filed against them.
Instead, the government in Iran has been issuing indictments against protesters in the province, at least 45 as of November 2, and hundreds more around the country.
On November 1, a female student protester from Azad University in Zahedan, Faezeh Barahouie, 24, was tried without a lawyer at Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court in Zahedan and sentenced to 3.5 years in prison.
For engaging in peaceful protest, Barahouie was charged with “propaganda against the state,” “disrupting national security” and “chanting against the leadership.”
With mass public trials for protesters recently announced in Iran, and charges already beginning to be issued that could carry a death sentence, it is urgent that the international community forcefully warn the Iranian authorities against leveling death sentences against the protesters, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said in a statement.
In a speech on October 31, 2022, Moinoddin Saeidi, a Baluchi member of Parliament from Chabahar, described the bloodshed in Zahedan as a “horrific incident” and demanded punishment for those responsible.
“The number of dead and injured in this horrific incident in Zahedan cannot be compared to any protest in recent years,” Saeedi said. “We asked the President [Ebrahim Raisi] to express sympathies to the victims’ families in Zahedan, just as he did when he called Mahsa Amini’s father from New York [at the UN General Assembly], but so far it hasn’t happened.”
The Iranian government has also repeatedly blocked or slowed down internet access and blocked access to widely used apps like WhatsApp in cities including Zahedan and throughout the country to prevent people from publicizing evidence of state atrocities online and to impede efforts by non-state media to report on state violence.
At least 321 civilians have been killed across Iran and at least 14,000 arrested, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), since protests erupted throughout the country on September 16, 2022, following the announcement of the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, just three days after she was arrested and beaten by the morality police in Tehran.
Human rights organizations stress that these numbers are preliminary counts that represent minimum death and arrest numbers, and that the actual tolls are likely higher.
Sharing borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan and home to a majority Sunni population in Shia-majority Iran, residents of Sistan and Baluchestan province struggle with widespread unemployment and poverty.
Despite accounting for an estimated 10 percent of Iran’s population, no Iranian Sunni has ever been appointed to a ministerial position in the Shia-dominated government since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979.
Sunni Friday Prayer Leader Calls for Referendum
Zahedan Friday prayer leader Molavi Abdolhamid, who has been a moderate advocate of equality for Iran’s Sunni community, has publicly blamed the Iranian government for the killings of Baluchis these past two months and repeatedly called for accountability during his Friday prayer sermons.
“We are very surprised that the higher authorities have been silent,” he said on October 21. “Tens of people were killed right here on this prayer ground, and in the streets, for no reason. Many were shot in the head and chest. Who killed them and for what crime?”
“All the officials and the Leader of the Islamic Republic (Ali Khamenei), who is in command of all the armed forces, are responsible,” he added. “Nobody can duck responsibility for this.”
“Why are slogans being answered with military bullets? Why is it that confronting protesters in Sistan and Baluchestan is different from other parts of the country? What are the people of this province massacred so ruthlessly?” Abdolhamid said in a statement.
During his Friday sermon in Zahedan’s Makki Mosque on November 4, the Sunni Muslim leader called for a national referendum.
“The majority of the people are unhappy,” Abdolhamid said. “If you disagree, hold a referendum, a referendum with international observers, an urgent referendum…”
He added: “The [Constitution] should have been updated by now but it’s the same one from 40 years ago and it hasn’t even been implemented. Today women are shouting the loudest in the protests because they have been discriminated against a lot.”
“Listen to what the people are shouting about. Killing, beating, and jailing the people will not push them back. They’ve seen blood. They have been on the street for 50 days. They’re not going back.”
*Click here to read CHRI’s recommendations to the international community to help end the Iranian government’s violent suppression of protests in Iran.
*This article was revised on November 8, 2022, to reflect that child laborer Omid Safarzahi was 17, not 7.