Anti-government protests in Iran, initially sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody for wearing ‘inappropriate’ headgear, have now grown to include anger over rising of poverty, rising unemployment and crushing penalties.
The real numbers on the number of people injured and killed in the protests are unclear, but the toll is rising. Iranian state media reported that at least 26 people died, including protesters and security officials. The Oslo-based Human Rights Organization of Iran said at least 31 protesters were killed and an unknown number were arrested.
In Tehran, protesters chanted “death to Khamenei” and “death to the dictator”, referring to the country’s 83-year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Crowds of protesters pushed back Iran’s security forces, known as “basij”, with videos shared on social media showing uniformed officers running away to cheers.
Other videos showed a bloodied commander and the bloodied body of a police officer hanging from an overturned car window. Protesters also set fire to two police stations in the capital, according to local reports, with the mayor of Tehran accusing them of destroying public transport and fire trucks in the city.
“These protests reflect a 40-year struggle by Iranians to push back against a repressive political system, a system that offers them no voice, no opportunity,” said Dr. Sanam Vakil, a Middle East political expert and scholar of the Iran at Chatham House in London. “They want to feel, ordinary Iranians, that they are part of an international community, and they are fighting for very basic rights, decency and respect.”
Last week, officials responsible for Iran’s strict Islamic dress code arrested Mahsa Amini, 22, while visiting her family in the capital, Tehran. The special unit, known colloquially as the “morality police”, accused her of wearing “inappropriate attire”.
After three days, she died in custody, with officials saying she had suffered a heart attack. Her family and critics believe she was beaten after an image of her bruised, bloody and intubated body emerged.
As new protests erupted, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry warned citizens against participating, saying those caught in the protests would be prosecuted.
“Given the exploitation of recent incidents by opposition groups, any presence and participation in illegal gatherings will result in prosecution based on the Islamic Penal Code,” the ministry said, according to the Nour news agency. , affiliated with the state.
“We warn the instigators that their dream of destroying the religious values of the Islamic Republic will never come true.”
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, designated a terrorist organization by the United States and other governments, released two statements late Thursday. One condemned the protests as a conspiracy organized by enemies of Iran. The other announced that a pro-government rally would be held after Friday prayers in Tehran.
Internet access in Tehran and other parts of the country has slowed down or been shut down. Services like WhatsApp, Instagram and Google Play were filtered this week – joining Telegram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, which have been filtered for years.
As protests continue to rage, there are fears that a massive crackdown will soon follow.
“I really expect that in the next few days. The repressive arm of the state will come out strong,” said Chatham House’s Vakil.
“They have the police and the IRGC in the streets,” Vakil said. “They are slowing down internet access to prevent people from coordinating. And in the past they have completely shut down the internet in order to completely cut Iran off from the international community and see us inside. And that could very unfold well and a full repressive attack could be unleashed.”