People demonstrate in the city of Sanandaj on Thursday. Photo: @PDKIenglish
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Protests following the killing of two Kurdish kolbars, cross-border porters, have continued in Iran and spread to other cities while police authorities issued a statement on the deaths.
Two kolbars, 41-year-old Ghader Bahrami and 21-year-old Heydar Faraji, were killed near Baneh on Monday by Iranian forces.
A spokesperson for the Iranian Police said border police opened fire on the two kolbars when they crossed into a restricted zone, Tasnim News reported.
Brig. Gen. Saeed Montazer al-Mahdi said on Thursday that the guards fired warning shots when they spotted a group of people with packages trying to sneak into a restricted area. When the warnings were ignored, the guards were forced to open fire given a record of security threats in the sensitive area, he explained.
Kolbars are frequently harassed by the Iranian authorities and many have been killed
. The kolbars are semi-legal porters who carry goods on their backs, across the mountains from the Kurdistan Region to Iran’s Kurdish provinces, which are some of the poorest regions of Iran.
People in Baneh began protesting the killings on Tuesday, closing their shops in a general strike and as many as 5,000 took to the streets.
Shops remained closed on Wednesday as heavily armed security forces were deployed and the government cracked down on social media users, arresting people associated with popular accounts, and shutting down the internet in Baneh.
“Now the city is filled with the sound of helicopters flying in the sky while anti-riot forces have been transferred from Saghez and Sanandaj to Baneh to create an atmosphere of fear and terror,” an eyewitness told the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN) about the situation in the city on Wednesday.
There were reports of injuries among both the protesters and the Iranian forces with hospital authorities refusing to admit the wounded under orders from security authorities, KHRN reported.
On Thursday, people in the cities of Sanandaj and Sardasht joined the protest and a group of civil activists have begun a three-day hunger strike.
The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) reported that Iran deployed forces to break up a “peaceful demonstration” in Sanandaj. Some shopkeepers had closed their stores Thursday morning in solidarity with protesters in Baneh, the Komala Party reported.
In Sardasht a group of about 50 people briefly rallied Thursday morning, KHRN reported.
Security forces have also been stationed around government offices in Marivan, according to KHRN.
Ten political and human rights activists began a three-day hunger strike to “demand the authorities to be accountable to Kurdistan people in the matter,” read a statement from the ten published by KHRN. They noted that due to high unemployment and poverty, Kurds have no choice but to work as kolbars.
The ten are identified as: Kak Hassan Amini, Mohammad Seddiq Kaboudvand, Ismail Mofti Zadeh, Hadi Adab, Hessam Addin Amin, Simin Chaychi, Ejlal Ghavami, Shilan Gilani, Mamoud Mahmoudi, and Masoud Kurdpour.
The Iranian government considers the unlicenced kolbars to be smugglers involved in an illegal economy, bringing weapons and drugs into the country and posing a threat to Iranian security.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei last year called for the country to be “determined in fighting smuggling.” But by that, he said, “I don’t mean a poor kolbar from Balouchistan who goes to the other side of the border and carries a thing on his back to this side… This is not important, it won't matter even if you don’t confront them,” according to Tasnim News. He called instead for a fight against large, coordinated smuggling rings.