Mehdi Babrinejad would have turned 23 on August 15. His family marked his birthday in silence this year, while his brother, Reza Babrinejad, spent the day in detention after he was hauled off after a raid on the family home last week.
Babrinejad was shot dead by Iranian security forces at the height of the antiestablishment protests that rocked the country last fall.
Nearly a year after the protests erupted in September, the authorities are ratcheting up pressure on the families of demonstrators who were killed during the brutal state crackdown on the demonstrations, the biggest threat to Iran’s clerical establishment in decades.
Wary of any tributes that could rekindle the protests, the authorities have warned that public or even virtual remembrances of those killed will not be tolerated.
At least 500 people were killed after protests broke out following the September 16 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian Kurdish woman who was arrested for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law. The protests began as a rebuke against the brutal enforcement of the mandatory headscarf legislation, but soon snowballed into one of the most sustained demonstrations against Iran’s theocracy.
The most prolonged protests and the deadliest crackdowns during the demonstrations occurred in regions that are home to ethnic minorities, including Kurds and Baluchis, who have long-standing grievances against the state.
As the demonstrations slowed in the spring, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and other security forces turned their attention to family members of those slain, embarking on a wave of arrests, punishments, and intimidation to keep them in check.
As the one-year mark of the beginning of the protests approaches, such pressure tactics are on the rise, with families being warned not to hold public remembrance ceremonies, or to honor their loved ones online.
“As the anniversary of [Mahsa, also known as Jina] Amini’s tragic passing approaches, government authorities and institutions are making efforts to prevent any gatherings or protests,” Awyar Shekhi of the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights told RFE/RL in written comments on August 15.
Just One Example
The pressure against the Babrinejad family, whose home was raided by IRGC intelligence officers on August 11, is just one example recorded by the Norway-based Kurdish rights group in the past week.
“They forcibly entered the premises, shattered windows, and seized several of [Reza Babrinejad’s] personal possessions during the apprehension,” the Hengaw Organization said in a statement on August 12.
The IRGC also took Reza Babrinejad into custody, where the ethnic Kurd remains at an unknown location on unknown charges. The raid was seen as an attempt to head off any tribute to Mehdi Babrinejad, who was shot dead while protesting in the northeastern Razavi Khorasan Province on September 21, and mirrors the harassment experienced by other families of slain protesters in the lead-up to the anniversary of Amini’s death.
On August 12, the Hengaw Organization reported that the father of Kumar Daroftadeh, a 16-year-old shot dead by security forces in West Azerbaijan Province on October 30, had been questioned for several hours and warned not to mark his son’s birthday.
“According to the information provided by a family relative of the Daroftadeh family, Hasan Daroftadeh was cautioned by IRGC intelligence four days prior to August 16, the birthday of [Kumar] Daroftadeh, that any commemorative ceremony on this date would be deemed prohibited,” the organization said.
Sources familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity out of security concerns told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that Hasan Daroftadeh was summoned to appear before the Information Ministry twice ahead of his son’s birthday, and that family members had received telephone calls telling them to refrain from posting about Kumar on social media and to not attempt to visit his grave.
The recent pressure follows similar questioning of Hasan Daroftadeh last fall, when he was pushed by intelligence officers to say that his son was killed by armed Kurdish groups, according to Radio Farda.
The heightened harassment is being reported around the country, including telephone calls and messages to dozens of university students calling them in for questioning by intelligence and security bodies. The Amir Kabir newspaper has reported that the students are expected “to pledge that they will not participate in possible protest gatherings” on the anniversary of Amini’s death.
The pressure has been extended into the virtual world as well, leading some victims’ families to announce that they would avoid posting on social media until after the anniversary of Amini’s death.
“Particularly on social media, individuals are organizing demonstrations and gatherings to mark [the anniversary of Amini’s death] and the inaugural day of the protests,” said Shekhi of the Hengaw Organization. “As a result, the Iranian government has initiated actions to pressure the families of victims and fatalities, urging them not to hold any ceremonies or gatherings in memory of their loved ones.”
A brother of Hamidreza Rohi, a 20-year-old university student who was killed while protesting in the northern Tehran Province on November 17, took to Instagram this week to announce that his page would go dark for now.
“While expressing gratitude and appreciation to all friends who, in any way, strive to keep the memory of our dear Hamidreza alive,” Puria Rohi wrote, “I announce that I won’t be able to continue activity on this Instagram page until after the anniversary of my brother’s death.”
Hamidreza’s father, Ali Rohi, also announced that he would not be posting on social media for now. In April, after inviting people to mark Hamidreza’s birthday that month, Ali Rohi was jailed for three days and was later found guilty by a Tehran court of calling for an illegal gathering “with the intention of disrupting national security.”
Shirin Najafi, whose 23-year-old sister Hadis Najafi was killed in northern Alborz Province on September 21, has also announced her departure from social media.
“Hello, and with all due respect to everyone who has been with us during these past few months, who sympathized with us, did not forget about us, and kept Hadis’s memory and name alive,” she wrote. “This is my last Instagram story until after the anniversary of Hadis’s death, and I request that no one come to Hadis’s grave for the anniversary because we are not holding a ceremony. Thank you.”
The new pressures come as calls have come from within Iran’s clerical establishment — which has already banned social media networking sites such as Instagram, Facebook, Threads, and X, formerly known as Twitter, among others — to seize control of Iran’s homegrown online companies.
Despite the steps being taken by the authorities to exert control over the legacies of slain protesters within Iran, the world is still being reminded of their memories through a Persian-language hashtag that translates as “against forgetting.”
And while there are signs that official harassment will deter some from honoring their killed loved ones in public or online, not all plan to bow to the authorities.
The Daroftadeh family is among them, with Shekhi telling RFE/RL that despite the “coercion and threats aimed at discouraging any commemorative events” marking Kumar Daroftadeh’s birthday on August 16, the family “has boldly announced their intention to hold a memorial ceremony.”