PARIS: Funerals for young Iranians, including a small boy who families say were killed in a state crackdown, sparked a new wave of anti-regime protests on Friday in the Islamic republic.
Iran’s clerical leadership under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is facing its biggest challenge since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in the now two months of protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini.
The authorities have responded with a crackdown that according to a rights group has left 342 dead, half a dozen already sentenced to death and thousands more arrested.
The turbulence also comes with intense attention on the response of Iran’s team at the football World Cup in Qatar, which is due to play its first match against England on Monday.
Scores flocked to the southwestern city of Izeh for the funeral of Kian Pirfalak, aged nine, according to pictures published by Iran’s ISNA news agency.
His mother told the funeral ceremony that Kian was shot on Wednesday by the security forces although Iranian officials have insisted he was killed in a “terrorist” attack carried out by an extremist group.
“Hear it from me myself on how the shooting happened, so they can’t say it was by terrorists because they’re lying,” his mother told the funeral according to a video posted by the 1500tasvir monitor.
“Maybe they thought we wanted to shoot or something and they peppered the car with bullets... Plainclothes forces shot my child. That is it.”
Ridiculing the official version of events, the protesters chanted: “Basij, Sepah - you are our ISIS!” according to a video posted by Norway-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR).
The Basij is a pro-government paramilitary force and Sepah is another name for Iran’s feared Revolutionary Guards. ISIS is an alternative name for the extremist Islamic State (IS) group.
Khomeini house torched
“Death to Khamenei,” they shouted in another video posted by 1500tasvir.
Opposition media based outside of Iran said that another minor, Sepehr Maghsoudi, 14, was also shot dead in similar circumstances in Izeh on Wednesday. Funerals have repeatedly become flashpoints for protests.
State television said seven people had been buried, including a nine-year-old boy, adding they had been killed by “terrorists” on motorbikes.
“Kian Pirfalak, nine, and Sepehr Maghsoudi, 14, are among at least 56 kids killed by Iranian forces working to crush Iran’s 2022 revolution,” said Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.
IHR also said anti-regime slogans were chanted at the funeral in the northern city of Tabriz for Aylar Haghi, a young medical student who activists say was killed in a fall from a building blamed on the security forces.
Meanwhile the Norway-based Hengaw rights group said large numbers turned out for the funeral in the Kurdish-populated northwestern city of Mahabad for Azad Hassanpour who it said was killed by security forces on Thursday.
Chanting anti-regime slogans, mourners then marched through the city, the group added.
Protesters also set on fire the ancestral home of the Islamic republic’s late founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the western town of Khomein, according to images posted on social media, verified by AFP.
But Iran’s Tasnim news agency later denied there had been a fire, saying the “door of the historic house is open to visitors”.
Khomeini is said to have been born at the house in Khomein - from where his surname derives - at the turn of the century. The house was later turned into a museum commemorating him.
New Sistan-Balochistan protests
The nationwide protests - which have cut across ethnicities and social classes - were initially fuelled by anger over the obligatory headscarf for women imposed by Khomeini but have turned into a movement calling for an end to the Islamic republic itself.
According to IHR, at least 342 people including 43 children and 26 women have been killed by security forces in the crackdown on the protests.
Its figures include 123 people killed in Sistan-Balochistan province where the protests had a distinct initial spark but have fed into the nationwide anger.
Mainly Sunni Sistan-Baluchistan is Iran’s poorest region whose ethnic Baluch inhabitants feel discriminated against by the Tehran Shiite elite.
New protests took place in the main city of Zahedan, where rights groups say dozens were killed by security forces on September 30, with people removing Islamic republic flags from buildings, IHR said.
In the port city of Chabahar, people also tore down a billboard of Khomeini, it added.
Images posted on social media showed security forces seemingly shooting at protesters in the town of Iranshahr in the province.