As demonstrators in cities and towns across the country clash with security forces, in protests that began on Thursday in Iran’s second-largest city, Mashhad, there are reports that at least 21 people have died. Over the last few days, hundreds have also been arrested. Meanwhile, a number of public buildings have been damaged or gutted by fire, and some protesters are chanting against the government and Ayatollah Khamenei.
According to state TV, in the town of Qahderijan, six rioters were killed during an attack on a police station. Allegedly, the protesters were attempting to to steal guns.
In the town of Khomeinishahr, a man of 20, and an 11 year old boy died. Reports say that in nearby Kahriz Sangand, a member of the Revolutionary Guards was killed.
In his first public statement regarding the violence, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, claimed “enemies of Iran” had stirred up unrest using “cash, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatus to create trouble for the Islamic Republic.” As well, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, blamed the UK, the US and Saudi Arabia for fomenting the protests on social media.
Although protesters were warned by the head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court that they could potentially face the death penalty, unverified reports from activists on social media showed videos displaying protests from various locations across the country. Social media was apparently also used by the organizers to call for more protests in dozens of towns and cities across the country.
Said to have been sparked by anger over the country’s flagging economy and an increase in food prices, the demonstrations are the largest to strike Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election.
While Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani called for calm, Turkey said it was “concerned” protests were “spreading” and called for “common sense” to prevent “any escalation”, and Theresa May’s spokesman said the UK Government thinks there should be meaningful debate within Iran on the issues being raised by the protesters. Additionally, a French foreign ministry spokesman expressed concern over the “large number of victims and arrests” as a result of the protests.
Reacting to Trump’s Twitter attack, Iran’s foreign ministry responded by saying the the US President should focus on “homeless and hungry people” in his own country rather than insulting Iranians.
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice also took to Twitter, posting a New York Times article titled, “How Can Trump Help Iran’s Protesters? Be Quiet.” Rice apparently took issue with a series of tweets from the President in which he condemned the Iranian regime and praised the anti-government protests that are taking place across the Islamic republic.
However, Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, said Iranians are standing up for freedom and demanding basic essential needs, and now is certainly not the time to “be quiet.” Conway said, “This president stands with the Iranian people in their quest to get basic freedoms.” She added, “He has made clear, beginning as a candidate, how much he disagreed with the Obama-Clinton lack of doctrine when it came to Iran,” Conway said, pointing to the Iran nuclear agreement.