Coffins being carried through crowds of mourners in Iran (© AP Images)
The coffins of General Qassem Soleimani and others are surrounded by mourners on January 7, during a funeral procession in the city of Kerman in Iran. (© AP Images)

The crowds of Iranians who attended Qassem Soleimani’s state-sponsored and staged funeral are not what they may seem to be.

Writing in the Washington Post, prominent Iranian activist Masih Alinejad reminds readers that in the mullahs’ Iran, only pro-regime gatherings are allowed. “The media in the Islamic Republic is heavily controlled,” Alinejad says. “So it’s not hard to use all the tools and resources of the state to stage a funeral procession.”

Conversely, the regime does everything they can to suppress internet activity and keep the media from covering the massive protests against the regime and to deny families of murdered protesters the right to mourn their slain loved ones.

Alinejad describes the thousands of messages she has received on social media denouncing Soleimani and notes that “some complain of the pressure to attend services for him.”

That’s easy to believe. Many Iranians nurse anger and resentment toward rulers who recently killed hundreds and imprisoned thousands in a brutal crackdown on nationwide protests. Protesters had raised, among other issues, the clerical regime’s continued corruption and support for proxy militias, like those supported by Soleimani and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–Quds Force (IRGC-QF).

As commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–Quds Force for more than 20 years, Soleimani sowed sectarian violence and exported terrorism. He was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad January 2, after Iranian-backed militias in Iraq attacked a coalition airbase, killing a U.S. contractor, and stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

According to Reuters, regime security forces, including Soleimani’s IRGC-QF, killed more than 1,500 people and jailed at least 7,000 in the brutal crackdown.

The regime also charged some families for the return of bodies and barred relatives of slain protesters from holding public memorials. For example, the regime arrested relatives of Pouya Bakhtiari, a 27-year-old protester, to prevent his family from holding a public funeral for him.

“I and others have been saying for years that the current repressive conditions in the country are not tenable and that more protests would break out,” Alinejad writes. “We were right. And I’ll say it again: Don’t be fooled. Iran will see more anti-regime protests.”

Masih Alinejad works for the Voice of America’s Persian service.