Workers at refineries critical to Iran’s oil and natural gas production are protesting over the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody, escalating the crisis faced by Tehran.
Online videos analysed by the Associated Press showed dozens of workers gathered at the refineries in Asaluyeh, about 925 kilometres south of Tehran, on the Arabian Gulf.
The vast complex takes in natural gas from the major offshore natural gasfield that Iran shares with Qatar.
In one video, the gathered workers — some with their faces covered — chant “shameless” and “death to the dictator”.
The chants have featured in protests over Mahsa Amini’s death last month.
The details in the videos correspond to known features of the facility when compared to satellite photos taken on Sunday.
But Iranian officials have presented a different narrative, saying that the oil workers are angered by a dispute over wages and are not protesting against the death of Amini.
Governor Ali Hashemi said some Iranians tried to hijack the workers' protests by chanting anti-government slogans, Reuters reported citing Iran’s Young Journalists Club News (YJC) telegram account.
The demonstrations in Abadan and Asaluyeh are the first time that the unrest surrounding the death of Amini threatened an industry that is critical to the coffers of Iran’s long-sanctioned theocratic government.
Although it remains unclear if other workers will follow, the protests come as demonstrations rage in cities, towns and villages across Iran over the September 16 death of Iranian-Kurdish Amini after her arrest by the country’s morality police in Tehran.
The demonstrations represent one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 2009 Green Movement protests.
Iran’s government insists Amini was not mistreated, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating. Subsequent videos have shown the security forces beating and shoving female protesters, including women who have torn off their mandatory headscarf, or hijab.
Crackdown intensifying in Kurdish areas
Meanwhile, Iran intensified its crackdown on Monday in Kurdish areas in the country’s west as protests continue, activists said.
Riot police opened fire on protesters in at least one neighbourhood in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kurdistan province, AP reported.
One video from Sanandaj posted online by a Kurdish group called the Hengaw Organisation for Human Rights showed darkened streets with apparent gunfire going off.
Another showed riot police with shotguns moving in formation, apparently firing at homes.
The New York-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran posted another video showing what it described as a phalanx of motorcycle-riding security forces moving through Sanandaj.
“They reportedly broke the windows of hundreds of cars in the Baharan neighbourhood,” the centre said.
Iran did not immediately acknowledge the renewed crackdown in Sanandaj. However, Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador over the UK issuing sanctions against members of the country’s morality police and security officials.
The Foreign Ministry called the sanctions “arbitrary and baseless,” while threatening countermeasures against London.
From Tehran and elsewhere, videos have emerged online despite the Iranian authorities blocking internet access.
Videos on Monday showed more university and high-school students demonstrating and chanting, with some women and girls marching through the streets without headscarves as the protests continue into the fourth week.
Amnesty International criticised the Iranian security forces for “using firearms and firing tear gas indiscriminately, including into people’s homes”.
It urged the world to pressure Iran to end the crackdown.
Jake Sullivan, US President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser, said that “the world is watching what is happening in Iran”.
“These protestors are Iranian citizens, led by women and girls, demanding dignity and basic rights,” Mr Sullivan wrote on Twitter.
“We stand with them, and we will hold responsible those using violence in a vain effort to silence their voices.”