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Protestor in Iran's Kurdish region describes government crackdown

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

As we mentioned elsewhere in the program, a fatal fire broke out in a notorious prison in Iran, where hundreds of dissidents and political prisoners are housed. The fire took place against the backdrop of ongoing anti-government protests throughout the country. The Tehran prosecutor said the two were not related. Those protests began five weeks ago when a 22-year-old woman died while in the custody of the country's morality police. And the protests in her home province of Kurdistan have been intense. So, too, has the government's crackdown. We have been in contact with a protester in Sanandaj - that's the capital of the Kurdistan province. We'll identify her only by the first initial of her name, D., to protect her safety.

D: (Non-English language spoken).

RASCOE: D. sent us an audio diary of sorts - voice memos - in response to our questions, as well as footage from the streets of her city.

D: (Non-English language spoken).

RASCOE: The 25-year-old says in recent days, attacks on protesters have escalated. D. says people are being shot at directly. She sent us videos of these clashes. A warning to listeners - this report includes sounds of gunfire.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

D: (Non-English language spoken).

RASCOE: She describes seeing security forces use live rounds, tear gas and water cannons on families running errands. She says she'll never forget the screams of terrified children.

D: (Non-English language spoken).

RASCOE: D. says injured protesters who go to the hospitals aren't being treated. They're being turned over to the police. So those who have been injured, she said, are afraid to seek treatment. She notes that over a thousand have been arrested, including teens.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

RASCOE: One video she sent has a woman screaming that they are being tear gassed.

D: (Non-English language spoken).

RASCOE: D. says she'll never forget the cries of protesters being drowned out by gunfire and how the government tried to isolate them from the world by cutting off internet access. But she said the people will not be silenced. She goes on to explain that in Kurdistan, people are not only fighting for justice for Amini, whose death kicked off these protests. They are also calling for an end to the injustices minority Kurds suffer in Iran.

D: (Non-English language spoken).

RASCOE: "In Kurdistan," says D., "we don't have the right to speak in our own mother tongue, Kurdish. Speaking our language or teaching it poses a security threat to us." D. also breaks down what she says is poverty by design there.

D: (Non-English language spoken).

RASCOE: There's no industry in her town, she says, where even the highly educated have to resort to menial labor, and unemployment drives people away.

D: (Non-English language spoken).

RASCOE: She lists what the Kurds want - the right to educate their youth in their native tongue. They want the systematic impoverishment of Kurdistan to stop. They want freedom of speech. They want self-determination and so much more. Those are the words of D., one Kurdish protester who is part of a large, diverse set of protests taking root in Iran. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
D. Parvaz
D. Parvaz is an editor at Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, she worked at several news organizations covering wildfires, riots, earthquakes, a nuclear meltdown, elections, political upheaval and refugee crises in several countries.