DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A large anti-government protest erupted in Iran on Friday at the funeral of a child killed in a shooting that his mother blamed on security forces. It's the latest in a wave of demonstrations that have flared across the country over the past two months.
Videos circulating on social media showed hundreds of protesters at the funeral for 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 the nationwide demonstrations began.
The protests first erupted after the Sept. 16 death of a 22-year-old woman who was being held by the country’s morality police. They rapidly escalated into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s ruling clerics and an end to the theocracy established after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Authorities have heavily restricted media access and periodically shut down the internet as they struggle to contain 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-run media in Iran reported that seven people were killed and several wounded, including security forces, in a shooting in Izeh on Wednesday. Authorities blamed the attack on “terrorists” without providing further details.
Among the victims was Pirfalak. His mother, Zeinab Molaei, said security forces stopped the family in their car and told them to drive away for their own safety because of a nearby protest. When they turned around, the security forces opened fire on the vehicle, she said, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.
State media had initially said a young girl was killed, but later amended those reports. Fars said 11 people have been arrested in connection to the shooting in Izeh, which Iranian officials say is under investigation.
Dozens of protesters had gathered in different parts of Izeh around the time of the attack, chanting anti-government slogans and hurling rocks at police, who fired tear gas to disperse them, state-run media reported at the time. Protesters also torched a Shiite religious seminary in Izeh.
Violence has erupted around some of the protests as security forces have clamped down on dissent. Iran has also seen a number of recent attacks blamed on separatists and religious extremists, including a shooting at a major Shiite shrine last month that killed over a dozen people and was claimed by the Islamic State group.
Iranian officials have sought to link the attacks to the protests and blame all the unrest on hostile foreign actors, without providing evidence. The protesters say they are fed up after decades of repression by a clerical establishment that they view 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 monitoring the unrest. It says at least 53 members of the security forces have been killed.
Rights groups accuse security forces of firing live ammunition and bird shot at demonstrators, and of beating them with batons, violence captured in numerous videos circulated online.