Iranian security forces were being deployed in the hometown of Mahsa Amini on Saturday in anticipation of unrest as many across the country prepared to mark the first anniversary of her death in the custody of morality police.
The death on 16 September 2022 of Amini, a 22-year-old arrested for allegedly flouting the Islamic republic’s mandatory dress code, sparked months of anti-government protests that spiralled into the biggest show of opposition to the authorities in years.
More than 500 people including 71 minors were killed in the protests, hundreds injured and thousands arrested in unrest that was eventually crushed by security forces, rights groups said.
Iranian authorities say dozens of security personnel were also killed in what they describe as “riots” incited by foreign governments and hostile media.
Seven men have been executed after being convicted in protest-related cases.
In Amini’s birthplace in Iran’s western province of Kurdistan, a rights activist said there was a “heavy presence of security forces”. Another activist said a small gathering of protesters chanted anti-government slogans before quickly dispersing.
The activists spoke on condition of anonymity, citing a fear of government reprisals amid a growing clampdown on dissent as the anniversary approached.
Social media posts spoke of security force deployments in several cities, mainly within Kurdistan. The reports could not be immediately verified.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said family members of at least 36 people killed or executed in the crackdown had been interrogated, arrested, prosecuted or sentenced to time in prison over the past month.
“Iranian authorities are trying to impose a chokehold on dissent to prevent public commemoration of Mahsa Jina Amini’s death in custody, which has become the symbol of the government’s systematic oppression of women, injustice and impunity,” said HRW’s senior Iran researcher, Tara Sepehri Far.
The two journalists who did the most to publicise the Amini case – Niloufar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, who respectively reported from her hospital and funeral – have been held in prison for almost a year. Another reporter, Nazila Maroufian, who interviewed Amini’s father, Amjad, has been arrested repeatedly.
While some women are still seen walking in public without headscarves – particularly in wealthy, traditionally liberal areas of north Tehran – the conservative-dominated parliament is currently considering a draft law that would impose far stiffer penalties for non-compliance.
“The Islamic republic is doubling down on repression and reprisals against its citizens and seeking to introduce new and more draconian laws that severely restrict further the rights of women and girls,” said Sara Hossain, the chair of the UN fact-finding mission set up to investigate the crackdown.
Under the slogan “Say her name!”, Iranian emigres are expected to hold commemorative rallies, with large demonstrations expected in Paris and Toronto.
On Friday evening, thousands of Iranian emigres marched in Brussels, holding up pictures of Amini and many others killed in the protests while calling for the overthrow of Iran’s theocracy and the establishment of a democratic republic.
Britain and the US imposed new sanctions on Iran on Friday. The US state department said Canada, Australia and other partners were also imposing sanctions this week.
The US president, Joe Biden, said in a statement on Friday: “Mahsa’s story did not end with her brutal death. She inspired a historic movement – Woman, Life, Freedom – that has impacted Iran and influenced people across the globe.
“We reaffirm our commitment to the courageous people of Iran … and together with our allies and partners, we stand with them.”
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report