The unrest in Iran continues
By Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
For more than a week, the Iranian regime has been trying to deal with widespread protests, which erupted because of rising gas prices, and it seems that the protests have not subsided. Despite a series of tough security steps taken by the Iranian regime, including live-fire on protesters, ongoing widespread arrests, as well as extensive propaganda (such as staging rallies backing the regime and accusations of foreign involvement in the protests), the protests continue. The Iranian leader’s office has posted on Khamenei’s website a poster showing “thugs and mercenaries” trying to set fire to the Iranian home. In the notice attached to the poster, the leader expressed his support for the decision to raise the price of fuel.
Iran’s Internet blackout, following the decision of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) to cut off Iran from the Internet, helped the regime in the early stages of the protests by preventing the mass coordination of protesters, but it has caused enormous economic damage. The President of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce admitted on November 24, 2019, that the Iranian Internet shutdown caused over $1.5 billion in damage to the economy and damaged trade and other economic fields.
Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, Minister of Information and Communications, clarified on November 24, 2019, that his office did not support the decision to disconnect Iran from the Internet, but that it was accepted for security reasons by the Supreme National Security Council.
Despite the fact that the services provided by most Iranian businesses were available since they were present on the domestic network, a vast volume of their business is still dependent on the Internet’s foreign services. The shutdown has caused severe problems (marketing, payments, transactions, no access to Google) and losses for them.
Presidential Chief of Staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, voiced hope that the Internet would be up and running soon. Some member of the Majlis’ National Security and Foreign Policy Committee explained that since all the main perpetrators behind the unrest were detained, the Internet will be running again within the next coming days. Mobile Internet will only be restored with permission from the Council and with the Council’s delegated restrictions
Meanwhile, Iran’s official news agency (IRNA) said that overall price increases of 25 to 50 percent over the past week had been a result of the rising fuel prices, despite the sweeping promises by Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani that there would be no increase in the price of other products and services.
Human rights organization Amnesty International, updated its figures on the death toll on Saturday, November 11, 2019, stating that at least 143 protesters were killed in the past week, though the organization adds that the exact number could be much higher. Radio Farda published the names of 138 dead. Iranian government detractors in exile and some human rights activists estimate that the number of fatalities in the first week has crossed the threshold of 300. Radio Farda has also obtained data on the arrest of at least 4,800 civilians, mostly young people, in 18 provinces. Hasan Khalilabadi, Chief of Shahr-e Rey (Tehran’s southern outskirts) City Council, in which Fashafouyeh prison is located, maintained that the prison does not have the facilities to deal with the growing numbers number of detainees, describing some of them as “dangerous prisoners.”
The resumption of Internet connection is slow after eight days of total blackout; the Internet was only renewed on desktops in public institutions, several universities, and selected homes in several provinces, but not in all 31 of them. Even after the reconnection of Internet to desktops, access to sites outside Iran is extremely limited. Cell phones have not yet been reconnected to the Internet and because of this, users have difficulty reporting riots, unusual events, or uploading complex (longer, higher resolution) videos. With the partial resumption of Internet connection, hundreds of civilians sent clips showing the security forces’ harsh clashes with protesters, in which it appeared that the regime used tanks, snipers, helicopters, and direct live-fire on the protesters.
In any case, the hashtag #IranProtests continues to be used by most Iranian surfers in both Persian and English and is a thread for updating videos in which, there are photos against the regime, pictures of the murdered protesters, as well as photos of security forces acting against the protesters. Some Iranians on the Internet claim that security forces are demanding $3,500 from the families of those killed so that they can receive the bodies of their loved ones.
From all the clips, it is evident that the regime is threatened by the intensity of the protests. Although now it is also apparent that Iran was prepared in advance for these protests on the eve of the rise of fuel prices. Operations Commander of the Basij Paramilitary Forces (Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s branch of volunteers), Salar Abnoush, called the protests a “World War” which Iran’s sworn enemies had planned and invested for years lying in wait for an opportunity to exploit the situation and “only God saved the regime.” Other security chiefs admitted that protests took place in more than 100 cities in 28 out of 31 provinces, but they noted that “a very great danger has passed over the life of the regime.” Iran’s police Chief Hossein Ashatri called on state-run TV to air footage from the recent unrest in a bid to expose and eventually detain leaders. Qassem Mirzai-Nikoo, a representative in the Majlis from Damavand city, said on November 24, 2019 that the protests were held in more than 500 locations, and over 130 people were killed.
In this context, Ali Fadavi (Deputy Commander of the Revolutionary Guards and former Commander of the Revolutionary Guard Navy), in an attempt to justify the indiscriminate shooting by security forces, claimed “mercenaries” fired live ammunition into the protesters’ backs and burned banks, gas stations, government institutions, and privately owned stores. He did not specify where these incidents occurred. However, Fadavi added that within 48 hours, we (the Revolutionary Guards) put an end to these diabolical actions involving the United States and Britain, Germany, France, and Saudi Arabia. Security forces filmed the rioters, calling them “hypocritical mercenaries” (an Iranian nickname for the opposition Mojahedin-e Khalq) and promised to deal with them later. Fadavi called for called the Islamic Revolutionary Front (Islamic organizations and states opposing the United States and the West) “to establish a parallel system for the Internet to prevent enemy intervention in their internal affairs.”
“Live Fire at Protesters from Justice Department Roof”
Some videos show that despite the brutal violence and the use of indiscriminate live-fire –sometimes from the roofs of government offices (in Javanrud, Kermanshah district, troops fired at demonstrators from the roof of the Department of Justice! In the city of Meriwan in the Kurdistan Province, helicopters fired at the demonstrators; and in the city of Shiraz, armored personnel carriers were seen on the streets of the city). In some of the videos, protesters were seen fighting with their bare hands and bravely blocking the security forces with their bodies (in Sari) against a Basij motorcycle charge. In several cases, situations were recorded of dozens of the regime’s armed forces fleeing shamefully, after they were encircled by protesters and their cars wrecked.
Protesters in various areas attack clerics, and offices of Khamenei’s representatives in various districts were set alight. In the city of Yazd, protesters attacked a Khamenei representative and set fire to his house. A number of religious seminaries affiliated with the regime were also set on fire. Opposition activists’ abroad report that many people affiliated with the regime have not slept in their home for several days for fear of renewed protests and becoming a target for angry protesters.
The BBC Persian, which reports extensively from the protests and was accused by the Iranian regime of inciting demonstrators and even supporting them, concluded that the regime’s forces set fire to the many government buildings, banks, and other public places to justify the violence by Iranian security forces. This conclusion is also common believed by many Iranian citizens. According to them, the regime wants to prove that the protesters were “mercenaries” who received funds from the United States, Israel, France, and Saudi Arabia. In recent days, the regime emphasized foreign involvement in the planning and execution of the riots and tries to distinguish between “legitimate” protesters who sought to protest fuel prices and these “mercenaries and thugs who were recruited by external parties.”
“Spontaneous” Pro-Regime Rallies
As part of the measures taken by the regime to contain the riots, it organized on November 25, 2019, proactive “spontaneous” rallies aired live by state-run TV channels and continues to accuse foreign parties and opposition organizations of organizing and orchestrating protests. During the rallies, crowed chanted “Death to America,” “Death to Israel,” “Death to the rioters,” and “Death to plotters.”
The Iranian regime is trying to project to Iran and beyond that it has widespread popular support. In the Kayhan newspaper, which reflects the opinion of the Iranian leader, the headline on November 25, 2019, read that the “Iranians will humiliate President Trump and Pompeo today.” Another newspaper’s headline read “We have complaints, but we continue to support the Islamic Revolution.”
IRGC Commander: “We Will Annihilate our Enemies”
In his speech during the main rally in Tehran on November 25, 2019, IRGC commander Hosssein Salami lambasted Iran’s enemies, “America, the UK, Israel and Al-Saud” (Saudi royal family). He “warned them not to push Tehran into ‘devastating retaliation’ for their support for the ‘rioters’.”
Referring to the protests Salami added, “We know that our people do not exchange their revolution for petrol. The entire Iranian nation knows that petrol is just an excuse. You witnessed how in 48 hours, a global sedition (protests) was ended abruptly and peace was restored (to Iran).”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi criticized the “poor level” of foreign policy conducted by some foreign countries whose foreign ministers asked to record and send videos of recent demonstrations in Tehran that show the burning of banks, cars, and buildings. Those countries that “knowingly and unknowingly” support rioters and riots, he continued, should take responsibility for their actions, and they should watch the support rallies for the regime in Tehran to understand “where Iran’s real citizens are.”
Exiled Iranian Prince Reza Pahlavi (the son of the Shah) sent a sharp and unprecedented message to Khamenei. In another missive, he called on the Iranian people to mourn the hundreds of those killed in the protests, wear black ribbons, and visit mourning families. Thousands of Iranians in the diaspora have been holding demonstrations in support of protesters in Iran for several days, calling for the removal of the Ayatollah regime in their homeland. Dozens of demonstrations took place in Barcelona, Tbilisi, Berlin, Hanover, Cologne, Bern, Hamburg, Paris, Rome, various cities in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Canada, and the United States (New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and more). Exiled Iranian artists, including famous ones, appeared on stations affiliated with the expatriates and expressed overwhelming support for the removal of the regime. They called for the unification of the ranks behind the Iranian people until the mullahs’ regime is overthrown. Some even appeared in the demonstrations.
And in Iran – former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the first of the former regime-linked personalities to break his silence and denounced the heavy-hand applied to the protesters who “were only expressing their opposition the deterioration in their economic situation.”