Iranians Use Yalda Festival To Continue Anti-Government Protests

By RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iranian protesters have staged fresh demonstrations by taking to the streets and the graves of victims of the government crackdown to protest during a night that is traditionally an ancient festival to mark the winter solstice.

Videos published on social media show people taking to the streets overnight in the western Iranian city of Sanandaj, where they blocked a street by burning tires and chanted "Death to the dictator" and "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Others reportedly visited the graves of loved ones during the festival, which is celebrated in Iran and other historically Iranian-influenced regions.

The festival, which took on extra meaning this year after several months of unrest that threatens to tear the country apart as protesters fight for the government to respect women's and human rights, is meant to bring family and friends together on the longest and darkest night of the year.

The sister of Javad Heydari, one of the victims of the recent unrest sparked by the death of a young woman in September in police custody, published a video as she visited her brother's grave, where she wrote that "the longest night of the year was the night we searched the city to find your body."

Mohsen Shekari's family published pictures of their visit on Yalda night to their son's grave.

Shekari was executed after an appeal of his sentence on a charge of injuring a security officer was rejected by the Supreme Court. Human rights groups said Shekari's sentence was based on a coerced confession after a grossly unfair process and a "sham" trial.

Meanwhile, Saeed Afkari announced on December 21 that his jailed sister, Elham Afkari, had suffered a sharp deterioration in her health after 14 days on hunger strike.

Mahsa Amini died on September 16 after being arrested by the notorious "morality police" for "improperly" wearing a mandatory Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

Her death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests in cities across the country. The authorities have met the unrest with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 400 people, including 62 children.

Officials, who have blamed the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way after the unrest entered a fourth month.

The protests pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda