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Tree at Saskatoon's River Landing becomes memorial to those killed in protests in Iran

Amir Abolhassani stands beside a tree at Saskatoon's River Landing, where a group of people from the city have strung photos of those who have died in Iran during the ongoing anti-government protests. (Leisha Grebinski/CBC - image credit)
Amir Abolhassani stands beside a tree at Saskatoon's River Landing, where a group of people from the city have strung photos of those who have died in Iran during the ongoing anti-government protests. (Leisha Grebinski/CBC - image credit)

A group of Iranian Canadians in Saskatoon are memorializing people who have died during protests in Iran by hanging pictures of them from a tree at River Landing, as the number of casulaties from the protests continues to grow.

In November, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the crackdown on protests in Iran had resulted in more than 300 deaths since September.

Now, that number is about 500, said Saskatoon's Amir Abolhassani, and includes people of all ages.

"Every two or three weeks we just gather around this tree and we add pictures," Abolhassani said of the hundreds of photos that now hang at River Landing.

He took a deep breath before stifling his sobs.

"And it's very sad."

Leisha Grebinski/CBC
Leisha Grebinski/CBC

The memorial is an attempt to bring awareness to the deaths of those protesting the Iranian government, Abolhassani said. He and his group in Saskatoon are calling it the Sarv Tree for Mahsa.

Sarv, he said, is the Persian word for a cypress tree, which is a symbol of freedom and resistance. The name also honours Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman whose death in police custody in September sparked mass protests in the country.

Amini was accused of failing to wear her hijab properly and was arrested by the regime's so-called morality police. Her family says she was beaten to death.

Iranian authorities have not provided an official count of those killed or detained, but according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has closely monitored the unrest, at least 516 protesters have been killed and more than 19,000 people have been arrested.

At least four people have already been executed following protests, and reports from activists and human rights groups suggest many more are at high risk of execution or lengthy prison sentences.

Abolhassani said he hopes people stop at the tree to scan the QR codes attached to it, which will let them learn more about the situation in Iran.

"I see my brothers and my sisters in these people. I wish I could be there, I wish I could be doing more, I wish — but this is the least that we can do," Abolhassani said.

"Look at the Iranians who are trying to bring peace to the region," he said. "Look at Iranians giving their blood for freedom."

The red ribbons tied along with the photos symbolize the blood of the innocent people who have died, said Abolhassani.

He believes bringing democracy to Iran would also bring peace.

A candlelight vigil is planned at the tree Saturday night from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

As well, a vigil and rally are planned in Saskatoon for Sunday afternoon to mark both the ongoing protests in Iran and the third anniversary of the destruction of flight PS752.

The plane was shot down by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Jan. 8, 2020, shortly after it took off in Tehran, en route to Kyiv.

All 176 people on board — including 55 Canadian citizens, 30 permanent residents and others with ties to Canada — were killed.

Pooyan Arab, who is among those organizing Sunday's rally in Saskatoon, said the tree has come to have a special meaning for Iranian people in the city.

"[It's] a lasting memorial for those who have been killed in the protests," Arab said.