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 that abroad is fueling the latest unrest.
Meanwhile, state television suggested the death toll from this week’s unrest could rise to 26. In several major cities, protesters and security forces clashed in several major cities in the worst political unrest 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 used to host gatherings such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
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 explaining how authorities arrived at that number. He said official statistics would be released later, but authorities have not provided full accounts of deaths and injuries in recent periods of 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 in the unrest that rocked two cities in the northwestern province.
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 drawn strong condemnation from Western countries and the United Nations, and has struck a national nerve. Hundreds of Iranians in at least 13 cities, from the capital Tehran to Saqez, Amini’s northwest Kurdish hometown, have taken to the streets expressing anger at social and political repression. Authorities have claimed that unnamed foreign countries and opposition groups are trying to stir up unrest.
“Death has tapped into wider anti-government sentiment in the Islamic Republic and especially women’s frustration,” political risk firm Eurasia Group wrote, noting that Iran’s hardliners have intensified their crackdown on women’s clothing over the past year since former chief of justice 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.”
Protesters in Tehran can be seen setting fire to a police car and confronting officers on social media. Elsewhere in the capital, videos show gunshots sounding as protesters fire from riot police shouting, “They’re shooting at people! Oh my God, they’re 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.
The scenes of women cutting their hair and burning their hijabs fuel a wider political debate about the role of religious restrictions in a modern republic — questions that have plagued the Islamic Republic since its founding in 1979.
But the protests have also become an open challenge to the government. The chants were scathing, with some saying “Death to the dictator!” and “Mullahs must be gone!”
Iran’s intelligence ministry warned civilians against participating in Thursday’s “illegal” street rallies, threatening prosecution. 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 University of Tehran announced it would move classes online in the coming week amid the unrest, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
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 the demonstrations.
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 the deadliest violence since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when 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 Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in return for sanctions easing, 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. .