WASHINGTON - Iranian authorities have taken new steps to suppress dissent in a restive southwestern city days before the first anniversary of the start of nationwide protests that ended in a deadly government crackdown.
A prosecutor’s office in the town of Behbahan in Khuzestan province summoned dozens of residents earlier this month to face questioning for alleged national security offenses, according to a document that VOA Persian received from an Iran-based source and verified as official.
The summons gave residents five days to report to the prosecutor’s office or face arrest. It was not clear if any of them had presented themselves for interrogation by Wednesday.
The document said Iranian prosecutors want to question the Behbahan residents on charges including disrupting public order, assembly and collusion against national security and insulting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
At least some of the residents named in the summons had joined a rare street protest in Behbahan on July 16. Images sent to VOA Persian at the time appeared to show residents chanting slogans denouncing Iran’s Islamist rulers for their handling of a faltering economy.
The individuals named in this month’s summons include relatives of those killed in Behbahan in the government’s crackdown on the nationwide protests of November 2019.
One of those summoned, Farzaneh Ansarifar, is the sister of Farzad Ansarifar, a 28-year-old man shot dead by police in the November 2019 protests. Authorities arrested Farzaneh Ansarifar on the sidelines of the July protest in Behbahan before releasing her on bail from a prison in the Khuzestan provincial capital of Ahvaz eight days later.
Iran’s government sparked the nationwide protests on Nov. 15, 2019, by ordering a 50% increase in the subsidized price of gasoline, further straining the finances of Iranians facing high unemployment and inflation in a shrinking economy under heavy U.S. sanctions. Iranian security forces killed hundreds of people and arrested thousands more in crushing the mostly peaceful demonstrations, in which some protesters also damaged buildings and businesses.
In another move apparently aimed at suppressing any commemoration of the crackdown in Behbahan, rights activists accused local authorities of digging up a road leading to the Behesht Rezvan cemetery on the city’s outskirts. The activists posted videos to social media on Sunday showing what they said was recent damage to the road and portraying the damage as an effort by authorities to block people from going to the cemetery to mourn those killed in the protests.
The police & municipality in Behbahan, SW #Iran have destroyed the road to the Behesht Rezvan Cemetary in fear that the families of fallen protesters, shot dead during last year's #IranProtests, would gather at their graves in upcoming days.— Iran News Wire (@IranNW) November 8, 2020
The sign of a very weak regime. pic.twitter.com/8gALiSaQsd
Some family members of the slain protesters had posted messages on social media in recent days saying they intended to gather at the cemetery to mark the protest anniversary.
VOA could not independently verify the video of the damaged cemetery road or who was responsible for the damage because it is barred from reporting inside Iran.
There has been no comment from Iranian officials in state media regarding the damage to the Behbahan road or the summons of the residents facing charges of national security offenses.