Iran’s hardline judiciary will hold public trials of about 1,000 people indicted for unrest in Tehran, a semi-official news agency said on Monday, intensifying efforts to crush weeks of protests ignited by Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody.
One of the boldest challenges to Iran’s clerical leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the almost seven-week-old protests have persisted despite a deadly crackdown and increasingly severe warnings, with the Revolutionary Guards bluntly telling demonstrators to stay off the streets.
The judiciary denied that a sentence had been issued yet to a man it said was arrested during riots and accused of hitting and killing a police officer with his car and injuring five other officers after a woman identifying herself as his mother said the man had been sentenced to death in an initial court hearing.
Iranian leaders have vowed tough action against protesters they have described as rioters, blaming enemies including the United States of fomenting the unrest.
Protesters from all walks of life have taken part, with students and women playing a prominent role, waving and burning headscarves since the 22-year-old Amini died in the custody of morality police who arrested her for “inappropriate attire”.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency, citing Tehran’s chief justice, said the trials of about 1,000 people “who have carried out acts of sabotage in recent events, including assaulting or martyring security guards, (and) setting fire to public property” would take place in a Revolutionary Court.
The trials had been scheduled for this week and would be held in public, it said.
It was not immediately clear if the 1,000 indictments announced on Monday included 315 protesters whom the official IRNA news agency reported on Saturday had been charged in Tehran, at least five of whom are accused of capital offences.
The judiciary said no sentence had been handed yet to 22-year-old Mohammad Ghobadlou – the man it accused of driving into the police officers. It said he was accused of “corruption on earth” – a capital offence.
In a court session partly broadcast by Iranian state TV on Saturday, Ghobadlou had said he had lost control of his car and hit someone who fell on his windshield and broke it after which he was then unable to see anything. “I came out of the car and put my hands on my head (to surrender),” he said.
Reuters was not immediately able to contact his family or a lawyer representing him on Monday.
Earlier, in a video shared on social media, the woman identified as his mother had said that he had been sentenced to death in the hearing two days earlier and that the court dismissed his lawyers.
“My son is ill, court doesn’t even allow his lawyer to enter the courtroom…They have interrogated him without an attorney present and, in the very first session, sentenced him to death and wanting to execute this ASAP,” said the woman, who did not give her name.
Reuters could not independently verify her account nor that of the judiciary.
Stepping up warnings against the protesters, Revolutionary Guards commander Hossein Salami warned them on Saturday not to take to the streets, declaring it the “last day of the riots”.
Saeid Golkar of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga said the warning was a clear message the Islamic Republic saw the protests “as a very regime-threatening event”. Continued protests are a “sign that people are more determined to challenge the regime compared to the past”, he said.
“Unfortunately…, history has shown us they are willing to use any level of violence to stay in power.”
Meir Javedanfar, Iran Lecturer at Reichman University in Israel, said the official warnings pointed to growing state concern about the resilience of the unrest, “the fact that despite early predictions by some regime officials, these protests are not dying down”.
The Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s elite military and security force, have yet to be used to quell the unrest. So far, the authorities have mostly drawn on riot police and volunteer Basij militia to crush the protests.
The activist HRANA news agency said on Sunday 284 protesters had been killed in the unrest, including 45 minors. Some 36 members of the security forces were also killed.
Footage shared by 1500tasvir showed people running away from a commemoration in the city of Shahriar near Tehran for a man killed in protests 40 days ago, with a voice saying they were fleeing an attack by security forces. Earlier videos showed dozens of mourners at the gathering, shouting slogans calling for the death of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Reuters could not verify the footage.
The protests have been fuelled by the deaths of several teenage girls reportedly killed while demonstrating.
On Monday, people chanted against the government during a gathering at the grave of a 16-year-old Kurdish girl killed by security forces in the city of Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan province, according to rights organisation Hengaw.
State media reported that WhatsApp and Instagram – both owned by Meta Platforms – would continue to be blocked, accusing the companies of failing to cooperate “with the laws of the Islamic Republic”.
Iran has blocked both applications, used to share videos of demonstrations, from early on in the protests.