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Iranian protesters have staged fresh demonstrations by taking to the streets across the country to protest during a night that is traditionally an ancient festival of fire as one of the country’s well-known activists, Sepideh Gholian, said she had been released from prison.
Gholian, 28, is one of the most prominent female activists held in Iran. She announced on her Instagram page on March 15 that she had been released after being behind bars for four years and seven months.
“I was released from the Seven Hills case. This time I came out hoping for the freedom of Iran!” she wrote in the post, which showed video of her leaving the prison with a bouquet of flowers.
Gholian was arrested along with about 20 activists, protest organizers, and workers during the Haft Tappeh Sugar Factory strike in November 2018. While most were released on bond the next day, Gholian was imprisoned for a month.
Her release from prison in Ahvaz in December 2018 was short-lived as she was again arrested in January 2019 after Iranian state television aired footage in which it purported to show Gholian confessing to taking part in alleged Western-backed efforts to overthrow the government. She promptly countered those accusations on social media by saying she had been beaten and forced to make a false confession.
The labor activist’s release came hours after videos published on social media showed people taking to the streets overnight as they used celebrations of the traditional Festival of Fire to continue months of protests, chanting anti-government slogans, such as “Death to the dictator” and “Death to Khamenei,” a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Saghez is the hometown of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman whose death during her detention by Iran’s morality police for an alleged head scarf violation triggered nationwide protests.
The festival, which took on extra meaning this year after several months of unrest that threatens to tear the country apart as protesters battle for the government to respect women’s and human rights, is seen as an opportunity to make wishes for the upcoming Persian New Year, which begins on March 21.
Reports also indicated that in several neighborhoods of Tehran, including Ekbatan in the west of the capital, people burned pictures of the leader of the Islamic republic and chanted slogans against the government.
Similar scenes were repeated in the Iranian cities of Zanjan, Rasht, Sanandaj, Piranshahr and Tabriz.
Amini’s death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests that authorities have met with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.
Officials, who have blamed — without providing evidence — the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way after the unrest entered a fourth month.
The protests pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda
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