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Sohrab Erabi: a new martyr for Iran's protesters?

The teenager disappeared June 15, when hundreds of thousands rallied in Tehran. Officials notified his mother of his death only on Saturday, despite her repeated inquiries at courts and prisons.

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An additional 190 people arrested late last week

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Erabi's mother, Parvin Fahimi, had made numerous inquiries at prisons and courts since he disappeared, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. On Saturday, she was finally called in by officials and asked to identify her son in several photographs of corpses.

"The lack of transparency and calculated delay in releasing the information about [Erabi's] unexplained death only raises anxieties about scores of others who are among the disappeared as well as those who have been held in incommunicado detention, with no contact to family members or lawyers, many for almost a month," said the group in a statement. "An additional approximately 190 persons were arrested following the most recent demonstrations on 9 July."

Erabi was buried on Monday in Tehran's enormous Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, one of the largest in the world, monitored by large numbers of plainclothes security forces. Within hours, videos circulated on YouTube showing Erabi's head-scarved mother sobbing as he was laid to rest. About 500 people attended the service and short speeches were given by Erabi's male relatives.

"I think they told them [Erabi's male relatives] not to kick up too much of a fuss," said Mrs. Mohamadi. "No one told me this, but you'd think that's what happened given how quickly it ended."

Attempt to connect Erabi to greater legacy

In Iran, at least 20 people have been killed so far in countrywide rioting protesting the June 12 presidential election that returned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power with a 63 percent share of the vote. Defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi contested the election and is refusing to relinquish his claim despite a partial recount of the votes by the Guardian Council, that found no evidence of vote-rigging.

During the 1979 Islamic revolution, dead demonstrators were dubbed martyrs, inspiring crowds of religious Iranians who felt that the ruling shah's troops were seeking to suppress Iran's Islamic identity. Attitudes are more muted this time, with few of the casualties being universally accepted as martyrs.

"There is a cultural divide with many not wanting to use the term because they feel the term has been overused by the government and is infused with religion," says Hadi Ghaemi, director of the International Campaign of Human Rights in Iran. "But calling someone a martyr can also merely signify that this person did not die in vain but his death had a purpose."