Iranians mark end-of-year festivities with new protests

Crowds chant 'death to the dictator' and 'women, life, freedom' during bonfire festival ahead of New Year

Chaharchanbeh Suri celebrations at a park in Tehran. Wana via Reuters
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Protests have been held across Iran as the country prepares for its first Persian New Year celebrations since the outbreak of nationwide protests in which more than 500 people have been killed and thousands imprisoned.

Revellers across the country held celebrations on Tuesday night to mark Chaharchanbeh Suri — a fire festival held on the last Tuesday of every Iranian calendar year, which typically marks the start of Nowruz festivities.

Iran's emergency services chief, Jafar Miadfar, said 11 people were killed and more than 3,500 injured during this year's celebrations, in which people jump over bonfires to ward off evil spirits.

The festivities were also marked with renewed protests against the regime, with opposition media reporting large crowds chanting anti-government slogans at the bonfires.

It comes as renewed anger mounts against authorities after a spate of poisonings at schools across the country, which protesters and doctors in the diaspora have blamed on Tehran.

In the coastal city of Rasht, large crowds shouted "death to the dictator", while in Sanandaj, people marked the event with chants of "women, life, freedom" — now the worldwide slogan of the protest movement which began in September following the death of Mahsa Amini.

Ms Amini, a Kurd on a visit to the capital Tehran, was killed while detained by the so-called morality police. Protests first broke out after her funeral in her hometown of Saqqez, where teargas was fired at crowds on Tuesday night.

The 1500tasvir social media channel, which monitors protest activity, posted footage of dozens of people marching in the Tehran district of Ekbatan chanting: "We are back, the uprising continues."

Women were also filmed throwing their headscarves into bonfires in Tehran, while others clashed with police in the western city of Bukan.

People also gathered outside Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where they chanted "death to Khamenei" and "death to the dictator," referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian supreme leader.

The prison holds many of Iran's activists, lawyers and government dissidents, including thousands of protesters who have joined demonstrations in recent months.

The protests also come after the arrest of five young women who were filming themselves dancing without headscarves — both of which are illegal for women in Iran.

Activists on Tuesday said the women in the video, which was widely shared on social media platforms, were detained and forced to apologise after security forces had asked residents in Ekbatan for their whereabouts.

Nigerian singer Rema — whose song was playing in the video — tweeted in support of the girls, saying: To all the beautiful women who are fighting for a better world, I'm inspired by you, I sing for you and I dream with you."

It is not clear if the young women have been released.

With reporting from AFP

Updated: March 15, 2023, 1:29 PM