Protests Erupt in Iran, Facing Swift and Brutal Crackdown

CLARIFIES WOMAN WAS TALKING TO POLICEMAN - In this Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020 photo, released by Iranian Students' News Agency, ISNA, a woman attending a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Ukraine plane crash, talks to a policeman, at the gate of Amri Kabir University in Tehran, Iran. …
Mona Hoobehfekr/ISNA via AP

Iranian security forces rushed to suppress a new wave of demonstrations across Iran on Thursday and Friday. The regime is clearly nervous about a possible repeat of the 2019 protests, which featured some of the same grievances and defiant slogans.

Attempts to control the new protests were familiar as well, including police and paramilitary units using force to disperse the crowds, government censors throttling Internet traffic, and allegations that the protests are the work of sinister subversives in collusion with hostile foreign powers.

Iran Human Rights Monitor quoted police officials accusing protesters of “spying, encouraging others to participate in protests, acting against national security and disrupting public order through social media.” 

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the mullah-controlled combination of oppressive internal secret police force and external terrorist organization, claimed on Thursday that it arrested a “sabotage” team sent by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), an Iranian opposition group led by expatriates. The PMOI observed Thursday as the anniversary commemoration of the Iranian resistance, holding an online “Free Iran” event that included a number of former U.S. and European government officials.

Newsweek reported tear gas was fired into a crowd of protesters in the southwestern Iranian city of Behbahan on Thursday after they began chanting in opposition to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and criticizing the regime for funneling Iranian money to foreign militant groups.

“Key elements of opposition groups” were rounded up by security forces in the northeastern province of Khorasan Razavi, according to Iranian media, while the Internet monitoring group NetBlocks.org detected restrictions on Internet access in the trouble spots. 

Police officials warned they would deal “decisively” with “desperate” demonstrators and warned the public to “vigilantly refrain from any gathering that could provide a pretext for the counter-revolutionary movement.” 

The demonstrators also said they were under attack by the Basij, the vicious paramilitary group Tehran likes to unleash against troublesome gatherings of unhappy citizens. 

On Thursday, Iranian state media claimed a member of the Basij militia was killed along with two other people in a “terrorist” attack by “counter-revolutionary groups” in the western province of Kurdistan. Kurdish militants have been known to operate in the area, but Thursday’s reports did not hint at the identity of the “counter-revolutionaries.”

The protesters have some longstanding grievances against their theocratic rulers, but they appear to have been galvanized by specific recent events, including the death sentences handed down to three young men who participated in the 2019 demonstrations and several other executions carried out recently.

A number of Kurds have been executed recently, which could be part of the reason for the killings in the Kurdistan region reported by Iranian news. Other executions have been noted for their exceptionally capricious cruelty, including a 55-year-old father of two who was put to death last week for drinking alcohol.

The regime’s grip on the Iranian people may have been weakened by an embarrassing series of fires and explosions that could be an espionage campaign against Iran’s nuclear weapons program. 

A weakening economy under pressure from renewed U.S. sanctions and public anger at the regime’s handling of the coronavirus crisis are also seen as factors in the reinvigorated protest movement, especially by the PMOI, which believes this combination of crises has destroyed the legitimacy of the regime for a growing number of Iranian citizens. 

The Iranian public seems acutely aware that their government lied shamelessly about both the number of protesters killed by security forces and paramilitary thugs last year, and the number of people who were killed by the coronavirus this year.

As one resident of Tehran told Reuters in a telephone interview on Thursday, “People are angry. The economy is so bad that we cannot survive.”

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