Whether or not protesters are aware of this reported expansion of the violence, it is clear that their protests have similarly expanded. On Wednesday, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported that hundreds of protesters had gathered in front of the Justice Ministry building in Isfahan and also in front of the parliament building in Tehran. On Thursday, various outlets reported that the size of the protests had each expanded into the thousands.
The message of these protests overwhelmingly calls for better government action to protect women on the streets. But many have also taken aim at the government, blaming it for its role in empowering and encouraging Islamist militias that attack “improperly” clothed women on the principle of “enjoining good and forbidding wrong.”
France24 quotes one Iranian protester as saying that “everyone agrees” that Islamic fundamentalists are to blame for the recent attacks. In addition, many expressed concern about a conspiracy of silence among Iranian officials and state-affiliated media, noting that television networks have given, at best, sparse coverage to the incidents, while the Isfahan general prosecutor has avoided giving a clear answer when questioned about what is being done to find the perpetrators and to prevent further acid attacks.
NBC News notes that some demonstrators have called for disciplinary action against one prominent cleric who explicitly called for violence against women who do not abide by Islamic dress codes, before these unusually severe attacks took place. Others, including prominent human rights lawyer and frequent target of government repression Nasrin Sotoudeh, have called for the government to drop recent legislation giving greater power to Basij militias, which are comprised of civilians organized under the Revolutionary Guard who accost other civilians and enforce their interpretation of Islamic principles.
A Newsweek report on the ongoing protests on Thursday quoted National Council of Resistance of Iran President Maryam Rajavi, saying in a tweet that this attacks “are carried out following the regime leaders’ emphasis on need for further suppression.” Via her organization’s press release on the attacks, Rajavi plainly attributed that attacks to “the clerical regime’s organized criminal gangs.”
This seems to have anticipated an interpretation of the events that would take hold among some of the protesters in the two days after the statement was released. Newsweek quotes several of them as saying, “We know who’s throwing acid on our women – it’s government agents.” The same claim has been made by at least one group that helped to organize these protests on social media.
However, reports seem to indicate that most demonstrators are not taking their accusations this far. Nonetheless, a popular theme of the protests appears to involve emphasizing that the Iranian regime is responsible for promoting and failing to intercede with the growth of a school of thought similar to that of the Islamic State militants who have taken over large sections of Syria and Iraq. A number of signs and chants have declared that the acid attackers are as bad as IS, which has made worldwide headlines for its beheadings and brutal tactics employed against ideological opponents.