ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iran’s November 16 decision to cut fuel rations and triple the price of petrol shocked the Iranian public, already squeezed by the spiraling cost of basic necessities under US sanctions. For many, the only option was to take to the streets and protest.

Residents of Mariwan – a Kurdish city in the Sanandaj province of northwest Iran – saw calls to join the demonstrations through Telegram, WhatsApp, and Instagram. The regime would later shut down internet services to silence these online organizers.

“People had planned to switch off their ignition in downtown Shabrang Square in Mariwan at 10am as a sign of protest,” a local journalist, who is named here as Hamno, told Rudaw.

“When the time came, people stopped driving where they were and switched off the ignition. Then, they got out of their vehicles. This caused a blockage of all roads leading to the square and congestion,” Hamno said.

“Some members of the security forces were positioned there and asked people to start their vehicles and leave the area. But this did not work. More people gathered there, shouting slogans against the new price and economic crisis.”

“Soon, some members of Ettela’at (the Iranian intelligence agency) arrived in plainclothes. They threatened to arrest the protesters if they continued. This did not work as well, as the demonstrations grew bigger. People stayed on the streets, shops were closed in the market until 2pm,” Hamno added.

More than a thousand people joined Mariwan’s first protest that Friday, he estimates. When security forces tried to disperse them at 3pm, clashes erupted. Officers attempting to arrest the demonstrators were attacked with stones and burning tires.

The protesters then move on to the Jahad and Supa squares where the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has a base and its Dokhaniyat office.

Security forces responded with live ammunition, the journalist said, killing three protesters and injuring many more. Angered by the killings, the protesters set the IRGC offices on fire. They also torched the IRGC bases in Ansar and Qarzulhassai Mehr.

Determined to find accurate figures on the number of injuries and fatalities, Hamno headed to Mariwan’s two hospitals, Booali Sina and Fajrah. In the first he found one dead body. In the second he found two more fatalities and 20 people who had sustained injuries – confined to one room. Only close relatives of the injured were permitted to enter.

These relatives told the journalist two protesters had been shot dead in the city’s Kani Dinar district.

Abdulmajeed, again not his real name, is a cleric from Mariwan. He failed to respond to several WhatsApp messages from Rudaw on Saturday and Sunday, but finally replied via Telegram on Monday.

The cleric said at least three people were killed in Mariwan on Sunday and five more the next day. Some figures place to death toll as high as 16, but he could not verify the numbers.

Abdulmajeed also said that he went to Jahad Square at 10am on Sunday and saw many protesters gathered with stones in their hands, hiding around street corner to avoid being shot by security forces.

The cleric witnessed the moment an innocent bystander was gunned down.

Security forces have seized injured protesters from hospitals, Abdulmajeed said. The internet blackout means he has been unable to contact friends to get a complete picture of events.

The cleric said a special force of masked gunmen, known to locals as the Black Force, was deployed from Hamadan to Mariwan to crack down on the protests. Their presence forced the protesters to retreat to the Kani Dinar district outside the city center, where further clashes left one dead and many more injured.

Video footage seen by Rudaw on Tuesday shows an injured protester refusing to go to hospital, fearing arrest. Rudaw was able to contact one of the men in the footage, who said the injured man was an unemployed 26-year-old resident of Mariwan.

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