A memorial service was held on Thursday in the northern Iranian town of Karaj for Pouya Bakhtiari, a young demonstrator slain during November’s anti-government protests. Iranian security forces broke up the celebration and arrested some of the participants, including Bakhtiari family members, fearful that popular unrest might boil over into more mass demonstrations.
Pouya Bakhtiari, 27, was protesting on the streets of Karaj alongside members of his family on November 16 when he was shot in the head, dying in his mother’s arms. Unlike many Iranians intimidated by the regime’s brutal crackdown, the Bakhtiaris spoke out against government violence, called on Iranians to remember all those killed in the protests, and announced they would hold a public memorial for Pouya once the traditional 40-day period of mourning was concluded.
The regime responded by harassing the family and arresting Pouya’s parents, along with his sister, brother-in-law, grandparents, three uncles, and 11-year-old cousin. All but his parents, sister, and two uncles were released after a few days. Those still in detention were charged with running a “counter-revolutionary project” and “anti-structural activities.” People who attempted to visit the imprisoned family members reported being followed and harassed by the police.
The regime implied the Bakhtiari family was a gang of terrorists on the verge of launching an armed insurrection at the behest of “enemies of the Iranian nation who have failed in their economic terrorism and tightening of sanctions” – in other words, the United States.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday expressed the outrage of the civilized world at the oppression of the Bakhtiari family:
The U.S. strongly denounces the arrest of Pouya Bakhtiari’s parents, and calls for their immediate release. It’s time for the international community to stand together with the Iranian people and hold the regime accountable.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 24, 2019
In remarks about the Iranian protests last week, Pompeo described Pouya Bakhtiari as an “electrical engineer full of life who loves singing the Elvis song ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love with You’ and was sick of what he called criminal and corrupt Iranian leadership.” He praised Pouya’s mother Nahid for embracing his ideals after suffering “every parent’s worst nightmare.”
Pompeo was joined in outrage by Amnesty International, which said it “beggars belief that the Iranian authorities are arresting grieving parents” and demanded their freedom:
Iran must immediately & unconditionally release Nahid Shirpisheh & Manucher Bakhtiari, who have been seeking justice for the death of their son #PouyaBakhtiari, who was killed during the #IranProtests. It beggars belief that the Iranian authorities are arresting grieving parents. https://t.co/1Epf2qHCoY
— Amnesty Iran (@AmnestyIran) December 24, 2019
Those Bakhtiari family members who were not incarcerated gathered at Pouya’s grave on Thursday, extending invitations across social media for activists, journalists, and well-wishers to join them. They were turned away from the grave by a squad of security troops who verbally and physically abused the grieving family. An unknown number of the mourners was reportedly arrested at the scene.
“The dictator is afraid even of a grave and has unleashed his hyenas!” one of the people gathered at Pouya’s grave could be heard shouting in a viral video clip, referring to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Others joined in with shouts of “Death to the dictator!” and “Long live Iran!”
On Thursday, Secretary Pompeo quickly condemned the new arrests and similar incidents of harassment reported at other funeral ceremonies across Iran:
The Iranian people have the right to mourn 1,500 victims slaughtered by @khamenei_ir during #IranProtests. The regime fears its own citizens, and has once again resorted to violence and shutting down the internet.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 27, 2019
As Pompeo mentioned, the Iranian regime broadened its Internet blackout on Thursday as new protests sprang up across the country. Concerned friends and family members outside Iran reported great difficulty getting emails and messages through the government blockade. London-based Internet monitoring group NetBlocks reported mobile network traffic in Iran falling to just five percent of normal levels in some areas.