TEHRAN, January 2, 2017: The theocratic government of Iran has begun cracking down on mass protesters against the current regime. The demonstrations began last Thursday, December 21, 2017, in response to the economic woes plaguing the country. The mass demonstrations are the largest to erupt since the protests the followed the disputed 2009 presidential election.
The largely youthful demonstrators seem to understand that much of their country’s current privation is due to the government’s massive expenditures on developing nuclear weaponry along with its efforts to either support or sow the seeds of Shiite revolutionary movements in other African and Mideast countries.
The current protests are the most massive such events held in Iran since an earlier 2009 uprising was brutally terminated by Iran’s mullahs and their own personal militia, the Revolutionary Guards. The current demonstrations have been spreading, at least in part, largely as a result of messages being sent via “Telegram,” a popular local messaging app. which government officials later blocked on Sunday, along with Instagram.
According to an AP report picked up by Fox News,
“It’s hard to overstate the power of Telegram in Iran. Of its 80 million people, an estimated 40 million use the free app created by Russian national Pavel Durov. Its clients share videos and photos, subscribing to groups where everyone from politicians to poets broadcast to fellow users.”
In an apparent attempt to blunt the spread of the current demonstrations, which are unfolding around the country, the Iranian government moved on Sunday to block Telegram along with another popular app familiar in the U.S.: Instagram.
Initially surprised by the size and ferocity of the anti government demonstrations, Iranian officials have warned that protesters will “pay the price.” Indeed, some already have. As many as 10 people, including one police official, have reportedly been killed in the demonstrations thus far. Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli appeared on state television, warning
“Those who damage public property, disrupt order and break the law must be responsible for their behavior and pay the price.”
Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued his first statement, since the civil unrest started. Addressing the nation and the demonstrators in a somewhat conciliatory tone, Rouhani said that Iranians have the right to demonstrate, but they must do so peacefully:
“Criticism and protest is the people’s right; it must solve the problems of the country and improve people’s lives. It is different from violence and destruction of public property.”
As Iran’s central government continued to cut off internet access to the average citizen, President Donald Trump tweeted out his support for the protests on Sunday, hinting that the current administration was continuing to reverse the Obama administration’s supine response to the Iranian regime, which it regards as one of the primary state sponsors of international terrorism:
Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2017
Rouhani quickly fired back his own response stating:
“Government and people solve problems together. One who calls the Iranian nation a terrorist does not have the right of compassion for our people.”
The still ongoing protests originally began in Iran’s smaller provinces. But these initially localized demonstrations quickly fanned into massive nationawide protests as they spread into Iran’s capital city, Tehran. Students at Tehran University were viewed on social media chanting anti-government slogans and fighting with police. It’s still unclear who is responsible for the current unrest. In Iran’s political system, different opposition factions rarely coordinate with one another. Some Rouhani supporters blame religious hard-liners for inflaming the demonstrators.
Predictably, Iranian authorities are blaming “external forces” for fomenting the current protests, claiming that the majority of social media reporting on the demonstrations emanated from sites inside regional rival Saudi Arabia or from Iranian exile groups based in Europe. Should Iran officials decide to conduct a serious crack down on the current civil unrest, the price could be costly for those who choose to protest. Those convicted of protesting in 2009 during a national election, received severe prison sentences and massive fines.
As the protests continue, people all over the world are watching to see what will happen. Many wonder if the world – and Iran – will witness another revolutionary government change in 2018.
Terry Ponick contributed to this report.