Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Iranian counter-protesters gathered across the country on Friday to support authorities after nearly a week of anti-government protests and unrest over the death of a young woman detained by vice squad.
Several thousand people attended a rally in the capital Tehran, where they waved Iranian flags and similar demonstrations were held in other cities. The government claimed the statements of support were spontaneous. Similar rallies have been held during periods of widespread protests.
The pro-government protesters chanted against America and Israel, according to state media, reflecting the official line blaming hostile foreign countries for the latest unrest.
Meanwhile, state television suggested the death toll from this week’s unrest could be as high as 26. Protesters and security forces have clashed in several major cities in the most serious political violence since 2019, when human rights groups say hundreds were killed amid demonstrations against a rise in state-controlled gasoline prices.
Iran has also disrupted internet access and tightened restrictions on popular platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp, which can be used to host gatherings.
In response, the US Treasury Department said it would allow US tech companies to expand their operations in Iran to improve Internet access for the Iranian people. Iran is under severe US and international sanctions.
A state television host said late Thursday that 26 protesters and police officers had been killed since protests broke out last Saturday after the funeral of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, without elaborating. He said official statistics would be released later, but authorities have not provided full records of deaths and injuries during previous unrest.
A tally by The Associated Press, based on statements from state and semi-official media, shows that at least 11 people were killed. Recently, Qazvin’s deputy governor, Abolhasan Kabiri, said a civilian and a paramilitary officer had been killed there.
The crisis in Iran began as a public outburst of anger over the death of Amini, a young woman arrested last week by the vice squad in Tehran for allegedly wearing her Muslim headscarf too loosely. Police said she died of a heart attack and was not assaulted, but her family has questioned that.
Amini’s death has led to strong condemnations from Western countries and the United Nations. Iranians in at least 13 cities, from the capital Tehran to Amini’s northwestern Kurdish hometown of Saqez, have taken to the streets, expressing anger at social and political repression.
“Death has tapped into wider anti-government sentiment in the Islamic Republic and especially women’s frustration,” political risk firm Eurasia Group wrote. It noted that Iran’s hardliners have intensified their crackdown on women’s clothing in the past year since former head of the judiciary Ebrahim Raisi became president.
“The prospect of leadership making concessions to Iranian women is minimal,” it said. “In the cold calculus of Iranian leaders, the protests have probably gone far enough and a stronger response is required to quell the unrest.”
Raisi condemned the protests when he returned to Iran after addressing the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week.
“We have announced many times that if someone has an honest comment, we will listen to it. But anarchy? Disrupt national security? People’s safety? No one will give in to this,” he said.
Protesters in Tehran can be seen setting fire to a police car and confronting officers on social media. Others show gunfire as riot police protesters charge, shouting, “They’re shooting at people! Oh my God, they are killing people!”
In the northwestern city of Neyshabur, protesters cheered an overturned police car. Footage from Tehran and Mashhad shows women wearing their obligatory headscarves, also known as hijabs, waving flags in the air as they say ‘Freedom!’ scan.
Separately, hackers have targeted a number of government websites in recent days, some of which have been shut down at least briefly. On Friday, hackers interrupted Iran’s Channel 3 on a popular streaming website and played videos in support of the protests. Normal programming was restored a few minutes later.
The protests have become an open challenge to the theocracy that was established after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The chants were scathing, with some saying “Death to the dictator!” and “Mullahs must be gone!”
Local officials have announced the arrest of dozens of protesters. Hasan Hosseinpour, deputy police chief in northern Gilan province, said 211 people were detained on Thursday. The government of the western province of Hamadan said 58 protesters had been arrested.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday that at least 10 reporters have been arrested since the protests began, many of them during nighttime raids on their homes by unidentified security forces.
London watchdog Amnesty International has accused security forces of beating protesters with batons and firing metal bullets at close range. Videos show police and paramilitary officers using live fire, tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters.
Iran has experienced waves of protests in the recent past, mainly because of a protracted economic crisis exacerbated by US sanctions over its nuclear program. In November 2019, the country saw its deadliest violence since the revolution, as protests erupted against the rise in gas prices.
Economic hardship continues to be a major source of anger today as the prices of basic necessities rise and the Iranian currency depreciates.
The Biden administration and European allies have been working to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Iran curb its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief, but talks have stalled for months.
The Eurasia Group said the protests make an immediate return to the agreement less likely as the Iranian government will be more reluctant to make concessions at a time of domestic unrest and the United States will be reluctant to sign a deal. as Iran is violently tackling the dissent. .