The bold tactics that have kept Iran protests going

The bold tactics that have kept Iran protests going

Flash mob-style protests, images aimed at tower blocks, water fountains dyed blood red: young Iranians armed with little more than their phones have adopted a variety of tactics to demonstrate Mahsa Amini’s tenacity.

The protest movement shows it can go far more than a month after it emerged, despite an attack by the security forces that has claimed at least 122 lives.

The protests erupted in response to the death of Amini, 22, after she was arrested by morality police in Tehran for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.

Women have led the charge, throwing and burning their headscarves, marching and chanting “Woman, Life, Freedom”, actions copied around the world.

Despite internet mutes reducing access to popular apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, savvy youths have still managed to get out videos of their protests.

In a game of cat and mouse, drivers honked their horns in support of the protesters and blocked roads with cars to slow down security forces, footage showed.

Streets have also been blocked by overturned and burning dumpsters, and in some cases overturned police cars.

Security forces have responded by taking motorbikes to cut through traffic, and have been seen tearing off license plates to identify the drivers for later arrest.

Officers riding pillion are often seen firing at protesters with birdshot, tear gas or even paintballs to mark and eventually track them down.

– “Disarming the machinery of oppression” –

Young people, for their part, have donned masks, switched their phones to “airplane mode” to avoid being located and packed extra clothes to replace those splattered with paint.

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In a video shared on social media, protesters dismantled a surveillance camera high above a road in Sanandaj, a town in Amini’s home province of Kurdistan.

Protesters have been seen staging several, but smaller, pop-up gatherings away from town squares typical of demonstrations.

“Compared to previous protests, this new round is more decentralized, without a particular leadership and organization and a particular demand like a policy change,” said Omid Memarian, senior Iran analyst at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

“Instead, this has been about ‘Death to the dictator’ and that the Islamic Republic should go. This is a big departure.

– It has disarmed the repression machinery that is trained to crack down on mass protests, student protests and the like, he told AFP.

Women have been filmed cutting their own hair during protests, a symbol of mourning transformed into a show of resistance rooted in Persian folklore.

Those too scared to take to the streets have found other, more discreet ways to contribute to the cause.

A form of protest emerged two weeks ago, with fountains in Tehran appearing to be filled with blood after an artist turned the water red to reflect the deadly attack.

Similarly, art students at a university in Tehran shot a video showing their hands raised in the air and covered in red paint.

That same day, activists from the Edalat-e Ali group hacked a live news broadcast from state television, putting crosshairs and flames over a picture of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Images shared online this week showed a picture of a cleric hanging from a highway in Tehran.

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In a video taken one night, Amini’s face was projected onto the side of a residential tower block in Ekbatan Town, in Tehran, as protesters shouted slogans from the safety of windows or rooftops.

And in a video that emerged on Wednesday, two bare-headed women standing in front of a sign that reads “Hug those who are sad” are seen embracing passers-by on a street in Ekbatan.

– ‘Unstable equilibrium’ –

Schoolgirls have even picked up the baton, turned their backs to the camera and removed their hijabs before raising middle fingers at classroom portraits of Khamenei.

Independent researcher Mark Pyruz said his analysis of visual evidence on social media showed that the peak of the protests was on September 21, and that turnout declined this month.

But “while experiencing peaks and troughs, there remains a level of sustainability not seen in previous periods of protest,” such as demonstrations in 2019 triggered by a shock increase in fuel prices, he told AFP.

Henry Rome, an Iran specialist at the Washington Institute, said he expects the protests to continue for some time.

– The more organized and coordinated they become, the greater the chance that they can expand their support base and present a clear, short-term challenge to the system, he told AFP.

“But the state security apparatus excels at disrupting just that kind of organized opposition, with a well-honed toolbox of violence, arrests, internet disruptions and threats.

“So for now, the state and the protesters are in an unstable equilibrium, with neither able to overcome the challenge of the other, suggesting that these current protests and violence may persist for a longer period of time.”

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