RFL/RE – An Iranian provincial official has accused foreign media of misrepresenting overnight funeral gatherings for a popular poet in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz as anti-government protests.
Amateur videos posted on social media appeared to show dozens protesting in the streets of Ahvaz, the capital of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, after the death of poet Hassan Heydari.
Heydari reportedly died at a local hospital after suffering from a seizure.
RFE/RL could not independently verify the reports.
Reza Najafi, the head of security affairs at the Khuzestan governorate, said on November 11 that Heydari had died from a stroke or a heart attack and that the alleged protests were in fact memorial gatherings by his friends and supporters.
“His friends had gathered to attend his funeral but some media presented it as a security issue out of ignorance of the traditions of Iranian Arabs in Khuzestan,” Reza Najadi, a deputy in charge of security affairs at Khuzestan’s governorate, was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Fars news agency.
He added that Heydari’s supporters and fans had gathered in the region to express their condolences.
Heydari, who was thought to be in his late 20s, had been reportedly arrested last year and released on bail. Charges against him were not clear. Iran routinely detains intellectuals and activists deemed a threat due to their critical views and comments.
The governor of the county of Shadegan in Khuzestan also denied that there had been unrest in the region.
“Currently, the security situation in Shadegan is optimal and the city is calm,” Governor Saeed Hajian told the Mehr news agency.
He suggested that there had been a protest by a “small group of people,” while adding that the police had brought the situation “under control.”
Khuzestan, home to an ethnic Arab minority, has been the scene of unrest and state crackdowns in the past.
Iran’s ethnic minorities often complain of state discrimination.
Last November, Amnesty International called on Iran to provide information about hundreds of members of the ethnic Arab minority who had been reportedly held incommunicado following a deadly attack in Ahvaz, which Iran blamed on a separatist group.