Iran protesters rally again, defying warning of crackdown

Opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hold a protest outside the Iranian embassy in west London
Opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hold a protest outside the Iranian embassy in west London, December 31, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

December 31, 2017

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) – Anti-government protesters demonstrated in Iran on Sunday in defiance of a warning by authorities of a tough crackdown, extending for a fourth day one of the most audacious challenges to the clerical leadership since pro-reform unrest in 2009.

Giving his first public reaction to the protests, President Hassan Rouhani appealed for calm, saying Iranians had the right to protest and criticize the authorities.

But he warned, according to official media: “The government will show no tolerance for those who damage public properties, violate public order and create unrest in the society.”

Tens of thousands of people have protested across the country since Thursday against the Islamic Republic’s government and clerical elite.

Police in the center of Tehran fired water cannon to try to disperse demonstrators, according to pictures on social media.

Demonstrations turned violent in Shahin Shahr in central Iran. Videos showed protesters attacking the police, turning over a car and setting it on fire. Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the footage.

There were also reports of demonstrations in the western cities of Sanandaj and Kermanshah as well as Chabahar in the southeast and Ilam and Izeh in the southwest.

Demonstrators initially vented their anger over economic hardships and alleged corruption, but the protests took on a rare political dimension, with a growing number of people calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.

Iranian security forces appear to have shown restraint to avoid an escalation of the crisis. Two people have been killed and hundreds arrested.

The protests were the biggest since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Videos showed people in central Tehran chanting: “Down with the dictator!” in an apparent reference to Khamenei.

Protesters in Khorramabad in western Iran shouted: “Khamenei, shame on you, leave the country alone!”

The government said it would temporarily restrict access to the Telegram messaging app and Instagram, owned by Facebook Inc, state television said. There were also reports that mobile access to the internet was being blocked in some areas.

“Iran, the Number One State of Sponsored Terror with numerous violations of Human Rights occurring on an hourly basis, has now closed down the Internet so that peaceful demonstrators cannot communicate. Not good!” U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday.

An Iranian reached by telephone, who asked not to be named, said there was a heavy presence of police and security forces in the heart of the capital.

“I saw a few young men being arrested and put into police van. They don’t let anyone assemble,” he said.

A video showed a protester being arrested by police while a crowd shouted: “Police, go and arrest the thieves!” in the northwestern city of Khoy.

In the western town of Takestan, demonstrators set ablaze a Shi’ite Muslim seminary and the offices of the local Friday prayers leader, state broadcaster IRIB’s website said. Police dispersed protesters, arresting some, ILNA news agency said.

BREAKING TABOO

Demonstrators also shouted: “Reza Shah, bless your soul.” Such calls are evidence of a deep level of anger and break a taboo. The king ruled Iran from 1925 to 1941 and his Pahlavi dynasty was overthrown in a revolution in 1979 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic’s first leader.

High prices, alleged corruption and mismanagement are fuelling the anger. Youth unemployment reached 28.8 percent this year.

Economic indexes have improved under Rouhani’s government and the economy is no longer in dire straits. But growth has been too slow for an overwhelmingly youthful population, far more interested in jobs and change than in the Islamist idealism and anti-Shah republicanism of the 1979 revolution.

The demonstrations are particularly troublesome for Rouhani’s government because he was elected on a promise to guarantee rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

His main achievement is a deal in 2015 with world powers that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for a lifting of most international sanctions. But it has yet to bring the economic benefits the government promised.

Ali Asghar Naserbakht, deputy governor of Tehran province, was quoted as saying by ILNA that 200 protesters had been arrested on Saturday.

‘CARRIED AWAY BY EMOTIONS’

Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said some of those arrested had confessed “they were carried away by emotions and set fire to mosques and public buildings”, adding they would face severe punishment.

“After giving thousands of martyrs for the Revolution, the nation will not return to dark era of Pahlavi rule,” he said.

Police and Revolutionary Guards have in the past crushed unrest violently. The new protests could worry authorities more because they seem spontaneous and lack a clear leader.

Yet analysts say Iran’s leaders believe they can count on support from many of the generation that took part as youths in the 1979 revolution because of their ideological commitment and the economic gains they have made under the government.

In apparent response to the protests, the government backed down on plans to raise fuel prices, promised to increase cash handouts to the poor and create more jobs in coming years.

“We predict that at least 830,000 jobs will be created in the new year,” government spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said on state television on Saturday night. He gave no details. About 3.2 million Iranians are jobless.

Protesters also expressed anger over costly interventions in Syria and Iraq, where Iran is engaged in a proxy war for influence against regional rival Saudi Arabia.

Trump and Republican U.S. lawmakers offered implicit support on Sunday to the protesters.

“Big protests in Iran,” Trump said in a tweet. “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism.”

Rouhani said Trump had no right to sympathize with Iranians since he “called the Iranian nation terrorists a few months ago”.

Trump refused in October to certify that Tehran was complying with its 2015 nuclear deal and said he might terminate the accord. British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson tweeted it was vital that citizens have the right to demonstrate peacefully.

(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Peter Cooney)

  • CCTexas

    There is truth in the comments by Floridastorm and Ezra Tank. The end of both comments has been an Iran of unbelievable hardships for its people. Was the Shah better than the current Devil Worshipers? I am not sure that is a question we even need to ask. History is behind us. Moving forward, we need to ask if the Iranian People are happy. Apparently, the answer to that question is NO. So, I totally support the Iranian People seeking freedom from the Devil Worshipers.

  • GMLOSMD

    As soon as they lock down the internet and the media it’ll be shootin time, just like last time.

  • landy fincannon

    Freedom has been the cry since the beginning of time.

  • Mike

    “Money and wealth being stolen”…yep. And pay no attention to the smoke and mirrors Odumbo and his past administration claimed, that 400 million dollars in cash (USD converted to foreign cash) was awarded the Iranian government a few years back. Maybe the people of Iran are wising up to their “spiritual leaders” greed. Ayatolla you he’uh would take’uh the money and’uh run, but’uh you didn’t’uh believe’uh me.

  • Donald York

    I’ve got nothing against peaceful religion, but i think Islam is more of a cult. They don’t want peace with anyone who doesn’t submit to their way of thinking.
    Iran’s Mullah’s are oppressive to the people and this is why there is an uprising.

    • Legion

      It’s not a religion at all, that is just a ruse. In reality it is a political totalitarian ideology, whose aim is nothing short of total global conquest.

  • Floridastorm

    Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was the only hope that Iran ever had and they threw it all away with a lot of help from the idiot Carter who pulled all support for the Shah in favor of Leftist anarchists at that time. I worked and lived in Iran for 3 years and I can attest to what that country was like before the lunatics took over. I know all of the positive things that the Shah implemented, modern infrastructure, good economy, one of the best military forces on earth, good relations with western countries including the US. He got rid of Sharia Law, made it against the law to wear the Chador (Persian head to toe black covering for women), prosecuted men engaged in Honor Killing. Tehran, the capital city, was known as the Paris of the Middle East. Girls dressed more boldly than on the streets of the real Paris. The Iranians were rapidly developing into a 21st century success story. And then, along came Jimmy and his asinine policies. The result has become a dark history for the Iranian people.

    • Ezra Tank

      You need to read Iranian history. The Shah was a brutual puppet of the British and CIA. Iran had a King that was peaceful like the King in Jordan. He made the mistake of wanting to take control his own country’s oil. Bp, the US and Great Britain didn’t like that and deposed him with the Shah who was no better than a dictator. Iran would have been fine had were not interfered.

    • Cyrus

      👍🏽

  • So close but so far

    See obama was paying for there terrorist activities. Trump took away the balance of their money and now the he people are protesting. American money should stay in America and this shows why.

    • Elizabeth

      Their? 😉

      • So close but so far

        I know the autocorrect switches it sometimes and I should pay more attention thank you.

  • 210’s

    I wonder if the Iranian media is like the American media, telling Iranians how bad things are when in fact things are improving economically. Is the Iranian media calling Rouhani mentally unfit for the position, crazy, sexual predator and a liar? Or, is the media subject to the death penalty for reporting untruths?
    They may have gotten at least one thing right.

  • Lee Vincent

    We have the right president at the right time.

    • Lee Vincent

      Or should I say… “We have the right President JUST IN TIME.” 😉