As civilian protests in Iran reached their fourth day on Sunday amid some reports of violence over the weekend, the protests have expanded far beyond economic concerns to target even the regime itself. An opinion piece in The Washington Post by Maziar Bahari cited Iran’s financing of foreign terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah—while Iranians struggle financially at home—as one reason for the protests, and Bahari retweeted a Twitter post from Iran Wire of a video of protestors chanting “Death to Khamenei”, referring to Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Bahari’s Twitter feed, citing the Iran Wire group, showed videos of protests on Sunday in multiple cities across Iran.
The situation is serious enough that at least two presidents are publicly taking notice. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed the discontent and highlighted economic struggles and government corruption as reasons for the protests on Sunday according to a report by the Tehran Times. Meanwhile, United States President Donald Trump has issued stern warnings to the Iranian regime not to mistreat protestors.
On Saturday, President Trump warned the Iranian regime on Twitter that “the world is watching” and followed up on that with another Twitter warning on Sunday. “Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!” tweeted Trump.
So far, such violations are occurring—at least against free speech—even if the extent of violence in response to the protests is unclear. The Iran Wire Twitter feed posted a video allegedly showing riot police charging protestors in the Iranian capital of Tehran on Sunday, while the BBC reported there were clashes on Saturday, with two protestors killed by gunfire.
A report in Iran’s PressTV cited a government official as claiming the deaths were apparently caused by foreign intelligence agents and terrorists. The claim of terrorist involvement is nothing new—the Syrian regime, a key ally of Iran, has repeatedly made that claim in justifying their own violent efforts to keep power.
Telecommunications and free speech have also been targeted. The communications app Telegram was shut down in Iran because they “publicly refused to shut down channels of peaceful Iranian protesters,” Telegram CEO Pavel Durov said in a post to the Telegram website.
Durov defended his app by noting they police themselves to prevent promotions of violence. He said they had to suspend one channel for urging protestors to use Molotov cocktails and guns against police. The channel later apologized, made a pledge not to promote violence and Durov said they were “able to reassemble most of their subscribers (800,000) in a new peaceful channel, which we welcomed.”
“We consider freedom of speech an undeniable human right, and would rather get blocked in a country by its authorities than limit peaceful expression of alternative opinions,” said Duron.
The United States is watching specifically for illegal imprisonment of protestors. On Saturday, the State Department issued a press statement stating they were “following reports of multiple peaceful protests by Iranian citizens in cities across the country… The United States strongly condemns the arrest of peaceful protesters.”
Said US spokesperson Heather Nauert in the statement, “Iran’s leaders have turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos. As President Trump has said, the longest-suffering victims of Iran’s leaders are Iran’s own people… We urge all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, December 31, 2017)