by Violet Rusu
Just two weeks after the mass protests that rocked 130 cities across Iran ended, sources say, the rallies are back for round two but thousands of protesters remain illegally detained. The protests commenced on January 29 in Gorgan, the capital of Iran’s Golestan province. Thousands of protesters were videoed chanting, “Death to dictator” while they marched through the downtown streets. The protests have since spread to several cities, including Kerman, Shiraz, Arak, Isfahan, and Rasht.
The protests originated in response to the current economic situation in Iran coupled with a lkac of social and political freedoms. Over 70 percent of Iranians live under the poverty line, according to a report published by Iran Focus.
While the new round of protests advance, many attendees fAear for their safety after the large number of arrests that occurred in the previous weeks. Over 8,000 protesters remain in prison to date, according to Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance in Iran, in a video statement she released during a press conference at the Council of Europe. Every day we hear of a new prisoner killed under torture while officials claim they have committed suicide, she says. “The regime must announce the names of all those arrested and all those killed under torture. They must account for those missing and if they have been murdered, the regime must announce where they have been buried.”
“Many protesters have gone missing and the assumption is that they’ve been illegally detained,” said Ali Reza, an Iranian activist in France, in a recent interview. “Intelligence agents put pressure on their families not to speak to press, and out of fear they just keep quiet.”
Sepideh Farah Abadi, 29, and her family, have been detained for over three weeks without access to a lawyer. Abadi was arrested on January 2, during protests in Tehran. Intelligence agents threatened her extended family, warning them that speaking to media wouldn’t be safe, according to an unnamed source inside Iran.
Sina Ghanbari, 23, was one of the protesters who died while being held in Tehran’s Evin prison. Authorities claim that Ghanbari committed suicide, but activists have disputed this claim and believe that prisoners are being force fed pills that cause bodily harm.
At least five protesters who were detained have reportedly died while in custody, according to a report released by Amnesty International. Relatives of those detained have reported that, they’ve been unsuccessful in obtaining information about their loved ones and have faced intimidation and threats by authorities, says the report.
Freedom of speech is a universal human right. The families of those illegally detained in Iran should be free to speak to press without fear of reprisal.
In response to the thousands of detained protesters, a social media campaign has emerged using the hashtag #FreeAllProtesters. The movement has spread across the Twitterverse, with people from Washington to Rome uploading their photos to Twitter with a sign requesting the immediate release of those arrested during the protests in Iran.
Violet Rusu is a freelance journalist in Toronto and campaigner for freedom of expression, press freedoms, whistleblower protection, and minority rights.