Paris: Fire and gunshots erupted at Tehran's notorious Evin prison on Saturday night, an Oslo-based rights group reported, as the protest movement sparked by Mahsa Amini's death in custody entered a fifth week.
Flames and a plume of smoke could be seen billowing into the night sky and pops of what appeared to be gunfire could be heard in video footage shared by Iran Human Rights on Twitter.
"A fire is spreading in Evin prison" and an "explosion was heard" from the facility, the 1500tasvir social media channel that monitors protests and police violations said on Twitter.
Demonstrators took to streets across Iran again Saturday over Mahsa Amini despite internet cuts, as the protest movement sparked by outrage over her death in custody enters a fifth week.
Amini’s death on September 16, three days after she was arrested by Iran’s notorious morality police, has fuelled the biggest wave of street protests and violence seen in the country for years.
Young women have been at the forefront of the demonstrations, shouting anti-government slogans, removing and burning their headscarves, and standing up to security forces on the streets.
Despite what online monitor NetBlocks called a “major disruption to internet traffic”, protesters were seen pouring onto the streets of the northwestern city of Ardabil, in videos shared on Twitter.
Shopkeepers went on strike in Amini’s hometown Saqez, in Kurdistan province, and Mahabad in West Azerbaijan, according to the 1500tasvir social media channel that monitors protests and police violations.
“Freedom, freedom, freedom,” young women at Shariati Technical and Vocational College in Tehran chanted as they waved their headscarves in the air, 1500tasvir said.
“Schoolgirls in Ney village in Marivan began the protests by setting fires on the ground and yelling anti-government chants,” said Hengaw, an Oslo-based rights group.
Youths were also seen demonstrating at universities in Tehran, Isfahan and Kermanshah, in footage widely shared online.
They were responding to an appeal for a huge turnout for protests on Saturday under the catchcry “The beginning of the end!”
“We have to be present in the squares, because the best VPN these days is the street,” activists declared, referring to virtual private networks used to skirt internet restrictions.
In response to the call for fresh protests, one of Iran’s main revolutionary bodies, the Islamic Development Coordination Council, has urged people to “express their revolutionary anger against sedition and rioters”.
A call also went out this week for “retirees” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to gather on Saturday given “the current sensitive situation”, according to a journalist at the Shargh newspaper.
‘Brave women of Iran’
The women-led protests have won support from the US president.
“I want you to know that we stand with the citizens, the brave women of Iran,” Joe Biden said late Friday.
“It stunned me what it awakened in Iran. It awakened something that I don’t think will be quieted for a long, long time,” he said.
Iran “has to end the violence against its own citizens simply exercising their fundamental rights”, he added.
At least 108 people have been killed in the Amini protests, and at least 93 more have died in separate clashes in Zahedan, capital of the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, according to Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights.
The unrest has continued despite what Amnesty International called an “unrelenting brutal crackdown” that included an “all-out attack on child protesters” - leading to the deaths of at least 23 minors.
The crackdown has drawn international condemnation and sanctions on Iran from Britain, Canada and the United States.
Iran’s supreme leader has accused the country’s enemies, including the US and Israel, of fomenting the “riots”.
‘Great moment in history’
His foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, has called on the European Union to adopt a “realistic approach” over the Amini protests as the bloc prepares to impose new sanctions on the Islamic republic.
“Who would believe that the death of one girl is so important to Westerners?” he said in a statement on Friday.
“If it is so, what did they do regarding the hundreds of thousands of martyrs and deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Lebanon?” he added.
EU countries agreed this week to level new sanctions, and the move is due to be endorsed at the bloc’s foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.
In response to the protests, the clerical state’s security forces have also launched a campaign of mass arrests of artists, dissidents, journalists and athletes.
Iranian filmmaker Mani Haghighi said the authorities barred him from travelling to the London Film Festival over his support for the protests.
The British Film Institute said Haghighi had been due to attend the festival for his latest film “Subtraction”, but the Iranian authorities “confiscated his passport”.
“I cannot put into words the joy and the honour of being able to witness first-hand this great moment in history,” said Haghighi
“So if this is a punishment for what I’ve done, then by all means, bring it on.”