DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A major anti-government protest erupted in Iran Friday at the funeral of a child killed in a shooting his mother blamed security forces for. It is the latest in a wave of demonstrations that have swept across the country in the past two months.
Videos of hundreds of protesters circulated on social media at the funeral of 9-year-old Kian Pirfalak in the southwestern city of Izeh. Protests also erupted in the eastern city of Zahedan, which has seen the deadliest violence since nationwide demonstrations began.
The protests first erupted after the death on September 16 of a 22-year-old woman detained by the country’s morality police. They quickly escalated into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s ruling clerics and an end to the theocracy that had sprung up after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Authorities have heavily restricted access to the media and periodically shut down the internet as they struggle to face the biggest challenge to their leadership in more than a decade, making it difficult to confirm details of unrest in different parts of the country .
State media in Iran reported that a shooting in Izeh on Wednesday left seven people dead and several injured, including security forces. Authorities blamed “terrorists” without providing further details.
Pirfalak was among the victims. His mother, Zeinab Molaei, said security forces stopped the family in their car and told them to drive away for their own safety due to a nearby protest. When they turned around, security forces opened fire on the vehicle, she said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
State media initially said a young girl had been killed, but later changed those reports. Fars said 11 people have been arrested in connection with the shooting in Izeh, which Iranian officials say is under investigation.
Dozens of protesters had gathered in various parts of Izeh around the time of the attack, chanting anti-government slogans and throwing stones at police, who fired tear gas to disperse them, state media reported at the time. Protesters also set fire to a Shia religious seminary in Izeh.
Violence has broken out around some protests as security forces crack down on dissent. Iran has also seen a number of recent attacks blamed on separatists and religious extremists, including a shooting last month at a major Shia shrine that killed more than a dozen people and was claimed by the Islamic State group.
Iranian officials have tried to link the attacks to the protests and blame any unrest on hostile foreign actors, without providing any evidence. The protesters say they are tired of decades of repression by a church establishment they see as corrupt and dictatorial.
At least 388 people have been killed and more than 16,000 arrested, according to human rights activists in Iran, a group that monitors the unrest. It says at least 53 members of the security forces have been killed.
Rights groups accuse security forces of shooting live ammunition and birds at protesters and beating them with clubs, violence captured in numerous videos circulated online.