Killing of nine-year-old Kian Pirfalak inflames anti-government protests in Iran

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Hundreds of mourners gathered in southwest Iran on Friday for the funeral of 9-year-old Kian Pirfalak, whose family says he was killed by state security forces on Wednesday. He is believed to be the youngest victim of the bloody crackdown by Iran’s government during two months of nationwide protests.

Iranian authorities have denied responsibility for Pirfalak’s death, saying he was among seven people killed Wednesday by unidentified gunmen on motorcycles who opened fire on a bazaar in the city of Izeh.

“They shouldn’t say it was terrorists, they’re lying,” Pirfalak’s mother, Zeinab Molairad, told the crowd at his funeral. “The plainclothes [government] forces themselves shot my child.”

The crowd responded with chants of “Death to Khamenei,” a reference to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

The killing of Pirfalak has added further fuel to a public uprising that has raged since mid-September, following the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman, in the custody of Iran’s “morality police.” As news of Pirfalak’s death spread Thursday, a Farsi hashtag that translates to #child_killing_government began spreading across social media. Petitions were circulated online calling for nationwide protests on Friday.

Overnight Thursday, enraged protesters in the western city of Khomein set fire to the ancestral home of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. A grainy video posted online appears to show a molotov cocktail exploding against the side of the building.

Anti-government protests started in Izeh on Tuesday and continued into Wednesday, sparked by an online call to commemorate a previous round of demonstrations in 2019. One video on Wednesday showed protesters chanting, “This is the year of blood, seyed Ali will be overthrown ,” a reference to Khamenei. In another video overlooking the city, gunfire can clearly be heard.

Protesters attacked and torched the seminary in Izeh on Wednesday, according to state-linked media and online videos.

Pirfalak and his family were apparently bystanders, trying to drive home Wednesday as chaos gripped the city. At some point, they passed a group of security forces positioned near a crowd of demonstrators, Molairad said Friday. They drove on, cautiously, before one of the officers shouted at them to turn around.

“ ‘Dad, this time trust the police and go back, they want what’s good for us,’ ” Molairad recalled Pirfalak telling his father. As they drove back toward the police, plainclothes officers opened fire, Molairad said: “They riddled the car with bullets!”

“I told the kids to get under the seats,” she continued. “If I got shot myself it won’t matter. My little one was underneath the dashboard. I don’t know why [Kian] didn’t go. He was chubby. He didn’t go under the seat.”

In a video from the scene Wednesday, Pirfalak’s lifeless body is laid out on the ground as a woman screams and a man shouts, “This is the result of the Islamic Republic! This is the result of the Islamic Republic!”

The Washington Post could not independently confirm the family’s version of events, though it was corroborated by activists and other media outlets. Another child, 14-year-old Sepehr Maghsoudi, was also killed by government security forces that night, activists said.

“[The government’s] only way is to unleash maximum violence,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based advocacy group. “They still hope that there is enough intimidation to push people back.”

Tactics of repression: How Iran is trying to stop Mahsa Amini protests

At least 326 people have been killed, including 56 children, since the demonstrations began in mid-September, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency, though reporting restrictions make the true toll impossible to confirm.

Abdol Reza Saifi, the deputy governor of Khuzestan province, where Izeh is located, told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on Thursday that military and police forces do not use “war weapons” and rely only on riot control techniques. But investigations by The Post, as well as other media and rights groups, have documented the apparent use of live ammunition by Iran’s security forces.

Earlier this week, three protesters were sentenced to death in Tehran, Iran’s judiciary reported on Wednesday. An additional protester was sentenced to death last weekend.

“The government is just refusing to understand the problem they’re facing,” said Tara Sepehri Far, an Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch.

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