Women in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan on Friday joined nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, in what a rights group called a “rare” move for women in the staunchly conservative Sunni Muslim province.
Online videos showed dozens of women on the streets of the provincial capital Zahedan holding banners that declared “Woman, life, freedom” -- one of the main slogans of the protest movement that erupted in mid-September.
“Whether with hijab, whether without it, onwards to revolution,” women clad in black, body-covering chadors chanted in videos posted on Twitter and verified by AFP.
Iran has been rocked by protests that flared after Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died following her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic Republic’s strict hijab dress code for women.
Security forces have killed at least 448 protesters, most of them in Sistan-Baluchestan on Iran’s southeastern border with Pakistan, says Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights.
“It is indeed rare,” IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said of the latest protests by women in Zahedan, which has seen men take to the streets after Friday prayers for the past two months.
“The ongoing protests in Iran are the beginning of a revolution of dignity,” he told AFP.
“Women and minorities, who have (for) more than four decades been treated as second class citizens, are empowered through these protests to come out to streets and demand their fundamental human rights,” he added.
Mainly Sunni Sistan-Baluchestan is Iran’s poorest region whose ethnic Baluch inhabitants feel discriminated against.
At least 128 people in Sistan-Baluchestan have been killed in the crackdown, according to IHR, by far its biggest toll for deaths recorded in 26 of Iran’s 31 provinces.
Second on its list is Kurdistan, Amini’s home province on Iran’s western border with Iraq, another epicenter of the protests with a Sunni majority, where 53 people died.
Iran accuses its arch enemy the United States and its allies Britain and Israel of fomenting what it calls “riots.”
An Iranian general said this week that “more than 300 martyrs and people” have been killed in the unrest.
Thousands of Iranians and around 40 foreigners have been arrested over the unrest and more than 2,000 people have been charged, according to judicial authorities.