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Iranians Honor Dead Protesters Despite Clampdown, Internet Outages


The December 26 commemorations came 40 days after the death of protesters including 27-year-old Pouya Bakhtiari, who was shot and killed at a protest in Karaj on November 16.

Family and supporters of some of the Iranians who died during anti-government unrest in November have gathered at a number of cemeteries to mark 40 days since the protesters were killed amid one of the country's harshest crackdowns in decades.

Mourners in Karaj, Isfahan, Behbahan, and other Iranian cities on December 26 braved intense state pressure, including arrests, a heavy security presence, and Internet disruption in several provinces to commemorate the dead.

Several people were reportedly arrested at Karaj cemetery, where one of the most widely reported victims of the deadly state crackdown is buried.

A Reuters investigation that was published on December 23 quoted unnamed Interior Ministry officials as saying the death toll during less than two weeks of protests was around 1,500 -- a number that Iranian officials have rejected as overblown.

The Reuters report said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had ordered national and local authorities to "do whatever it takes" to end the demonstrations as they reportedly swept through more than 100 cities over gasoline rationing and calls for an end to Iran's clerical leadership.

The December 26 commemorations came 40 days after the death of protesters including 27-year-old Pouya Bakhtiari, who was shot and killed at a protest in Karaj on November 16.

Bakhtiari's parents and several other relatives were arrested by security forces after refusing to cancel plans for the traditional mourning ceremony for their son at the Karaj cemetery.

In a video sent to BBC on December 26, Bakhtiari's grandmother said security forces had prevented her from praying at the grave of her grandson.

"[Many] had come and I thank them, but [security forces] didn't let them in," she said, holding a photo of Bakhtiari.

"I begged them, I cried, I told them, 'Please allow me to recite the Fatiha,'" -- an Islamic prayer for the deceased -- "[but] they didn't allow me," she said, adding that security forces had beaten some of the mourners and taken them away in cars.

A video posted online appeared to show security forces leading several people away at the cemetery.

Some of the mourners in Karaj on December 26 targeted Khamenei in their chants, calling for his death over "all these years of crime."

"We didn't give [our] dead to compromise and praise a murderous leader," they chanted, highlighting anger at the deadly state crackdown, which Amnesty International said had left at least 304 dead and thousands more injured.

Mourning ceremonies were also held elsewhere in the country, including in the central city of Isfahan, where 21-year-old student Arsham Ebrahimi was honored 40 days after his death.

In the southern city of Behbahan, a large mourning ceremony was held for 27-year-old Farzad Ansarifard, who was shot in the head during the November protests.

Ahead of the mourning ceremonies, Iran's semiofficial ILNA news agency reported that mobile Internet had been disrupted in five provinces following an order by "security authorities."

NetBlocks, a website that monitors international Internet outages, also reported on December 26 that mobile Internet connectivity had fallen to 5 percent of ordinary levels on specific networks.

Iranian authorities shut down Internet access for nearly a week during the November protests.

Iranian officials have blamed "thugs" connected to enemies abroad and the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia of involvement in the protests.

Iranian media have reported that the authorities arrested more than 100 alleged "ringleaders and masterminds" of the unrest.

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