Women’s Rights Activists Rounded Up in Iran as Protest Anniversary Nears

In a sweeping operation ahead of an important anniversary, the Iranian authorities have detained at least 12 rights activists, all but one of them women, over the past two days, human rights groups and Iranian media have reported.

A year ago next month, Iran was convulsed in demonstrations and riots following the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested by the country’s morality police after officers accused her of wearing her state-mandated religious veil too loosely. Hundreds were killed in the ensuing government crackdown, including at least 44 minors, while around 20,000 Iranians were arrested, the United Nations calculated.

The arrested activists were rounded up in cities across Iran’s northern Gilan Province, according to HRANA, an Iranian human rights organization. The detentions signaled that the Iranian government “is trying to get ahead of any possible protests that might be organized to commemorate the one-year anniversary,” said Sanam Vakil, who directs the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, the London-based think tank.

On Thursday, Iranian officials accused the 12 detainees of planning to incite “chaos and vandalism” on the upcoming anniversary of Ms. Amini’s death, the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported. According to Fars, which has close ties to the country’s security agencies, the officials also accused the activists of being funded by foreign intelligence and collaborating with Iran International, an opposition television channel based in Washington.

After her arrest last year, Ms. Amini, who came from Kurdistan Province in northwestern Iran, died under suspicious circumstances in a Tehran hospital, prompting months of protests by Iranians, many of whom saw her death as emblematic of the heavy-handed and repressive nature of the Islamic Republic.

The outrage was stoked by a photo and video of Ms. Amini that circulated widely on social media showing her lying unconscious on a hospital bed with tubes in her mouth and nose, blood oozing from her ear and bruises around her eyes.

The widespread unrest marked the most serious challenge to the Islamic Republic since another wave of anti-government demonstrations in 2009, prompted by accusations of widespread election fraud.

Iranian opposition activists say pressure from the authorities has been building as the anniversary of Ms. Amini’s death on September 16th last year has approached.Numerous activists — even those who have managed to stay out of jail — have been summoned by state intelligence and warned not to demonstrate at the one-year mark, said Shiva Nazarahari, an Iranian women’s rights activist who lives in Slovenia.

Everyone “from Instagram bloggers to university students” are now feeling the pressure, Ms. Nazarahari said.

Police rearrested a student journalist, Nazila Maroufian, on Monday, just a day after she was released on bail, according to HRANA. Ms. Maroufian published an interview with Ms. Amini’s father, Amjad, last October in which he accused the Iranian government of lying about his daughter’s death.

On Wednesday, an Iranian court sentenced two filmmakers, Saeed Roustaee and Javad Noruzbegi, to six months in prison for “participating in the opposition’s propaganda against the Islamic regime” over their movie “Leila’s Children,” the Iranian news site Etemad reported.

The two will serve nine days in prison with the remaining sentence suspended for five years, according to Etemad. They will also be barred from engaging with other members of the film industry.

Omid Memarian, an analyst at Democracy for the Arab World, a U.S.-based advocacy group, said the uptick in security operations reflects “the authorities’ concerns about a new round of protests” despite the largely successful crackdown.

“The energy, anger and frustration are there, and once there is an opening, it will come to the surface,” said Mr. Memarian.

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