A series of cities across western Iran went on strike on Wednesday, commemorating a series of killings by the country’s security forces in late September amid the crackdown on the nationwide anti-government protest movement.
During the incident in question—described as a massacre by many in Iran’s opposition—Iranian police and security forces opened fire on a group of protesters in Zahedan, the capital of Iran’s southeastern Baluchistan province, killing roughly 100 civilians. The killings took place on September 30; Wednesday marked the fortieth day since the event, a time period with religious significance to many Shia Muslims in Iran. Cities that experienced strikes on Wednesday included many in the country’s northwestern Kurdistan province, such as Kermanshah, Marivan, and Saqqez, the provincial capital.
The ongoing nationwide protests in Iran have continued since September 16, when Mahsa Amini, a twenty-two-year-old Kurdish woman from Saqqez, died of injuries sustained during her arrest and imprisonment by the country’s religious police. The nature of Amini’s arrest—stemming from her failure to properly wear a headscarf, a legal requirement under Iran’s theocratic law—has prompted sustained nationwide demonstrations and led thousands of Iranian women to burn their headscarves and dance in public. Women have taken a central role in the ongoing protests, a fact reflected in the movement’s main protest slogan, “Women, life, freedom.”
Although Iran has undergone repeated waves of protest since 2017—most dramatically in late 2019, when as many as 1,000 demonstrators were killed amid nationwide protests over fuel price hikes—the current wave of protests is explicitly anti-government in character and has been described by many observers as the greatest internal threat to Iran’s clerical government since it took power in 1979. Consequently, Tehran has responded to the protests with a harsh crackdown; at least 300 civilians are known to have been killed by Iranian security forces so far, including at least forty-one children, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights NGO. The government also instituted restrictions on Internet access in an attempt to prevent protesters from organizing and approved the death penalty for use in protesters’ criminal cases, a move likely intended to deter would-be demonstrators from returning to the streets.
Despite these efforts, the protests have continued, and a handful of reformist politicians in Tehran have called to accommodate some of its demands, such as an end to the country’s unpopular headscarf law. The Iranian Reform Front, a political caucus formed in 2021 by officials linked to reformist former president Mohammad Khatami, reportedly suggested “courageous and innovative changes” to end the crisis, potentially including a nationwide referendum. However, most of the Iranian political establishment has strongly opposed reforms, noting that they could be perceived by demonstrators as a sign of the government’s weakness and encourage further unrest.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.