QUETTA: Communication services were down in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan on Saturday, after a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander was killed in clashes.
Protests broke out in the capital of the Sistan and Balochistan province bordering Pakistan on Friday after an outcry over the rape of a 15-year-old Baloch girl, allegedly by a local military commander.
Ali Mousavi, IRGC intelligence chief of Sistan and Balochistan, was shot during the confrontation with protesters. The IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported he was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The killing was claimed by the Jaish Al-Adl militant group, which says it is fighting for the independence of Sistan and Baluchistan and greater rights for Baloch people, who are the main ethnic group in the province.
Footage emerging from Zahedan showed people carrying dead and wounded protesters amid heavy gunfire. The provincial administration said 19 people have died in the clashes. Local news agency Haal-e Vash reported the number of deaths to be at least 36, with dozens of others wounded.
The internet has been blocked and mobile networks largely shut down in the city and surrounding areas since Friday, data from watchdog Netblocks shows, with residents of neighboring towns saying they have been unable to reach their relatives.
Mohammad Zia, a shopkeeper in Taftan, a city on Iran’s border with Pakistan, some 90 km from Zahedan, told Arab News that in some parts of the town weak mobile signals could be caught.
“But the internet services are still suspended in the entire Sistan and Balochistan region,” he said.
Muhammad Asif, who lives in Nokundi, a nearby town on the Pakistani side of the border, said he received disturbing footage from the deadly clashes in Zahedan on Friday and has since been unable to contact his family there.
“I have been constantly trying to contact my cousin who traveled there for business,” he said. “Due to the internet and mobile network blackout I am unable to contact him, which increases my worries.”
The death of the provincial IRGC intelligence chief is a major escalation in the antigovernment demonstrations that began in mid-September, triggered by the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Iranian morality police.
The country-wide rallies have been the largest manifestation of dissent against the Iranian government in over a decade.
As of Friday, at least 83 protesters have been killed by security forces, mainly in the provinces of Mazandaran, Gilan, Western Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Alborz, and the capital Tehran, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights organization.
Thousands of demonstrators and civil activists have been arrested.
The toll is likely to increase with the Sistan and Balochistan casualties.