Only days after large crowds of Iranians demonstrated national unity while mourning the assassination of the country’s top military leader in a U.S. drone strike, anti-government protests have erupted on the streets of Tehran and several other cities.
The protesters are angry over the establishment’s mishandling of the deadly downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet on January 8 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in what is seen as a display of incompetency and recklessness by the country’s leaders.
Thousands of protesters, including many students, chanted against the clerical establishment over the weekend and into January 13, with many calling for the resignation of the country’s top authority, Ayatollah Ali Khameni.
“Clerics get lost” was one refrain heard at the protests. Others called Qasem Soleimani, the IRGC commander killed in the U.S. strike and widely praised as a national hero by the state, “a murderer.”
It was Iran’s delayed admission of guilt for the plane’s downing — three days after the tragedy — and what was seen by many as an attempt to cover up the real cause of the crash that has aroused public fury and a revival of the grievances that resulted in waves of anti-establishment protests in past months, including in November, when hundreds were killed in a violent state crackdown on rallies against large increases in gas prices.
In the past two days there have been photos and video from the protests showing wounded people being carried away and blood on the ground. In some videos, gunshots can be heard and tear gas is being fired, although the police have denied shooting at protesters.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted to Iranian leaders “don’t kill your protesters.”
The demonstrators in Tehran and cities including Isfahan, Shiraz, and Babol were also upset by what they see as a cover-up, including Iran’s lack of cooperation with Ukrainian investigators and the bulldozing of the disaster site, which led to international ridicule.
The protests come amid a faltering economy due to crippling U.S. economic sanctions that have contributed to the fall of the national currency, the rial.
“We’re seeing society bursting [in anger], particularly students, against lies and the humiliation of the nation,” Paris-based Iranian analyst Reza Alijani told RFE/RL.
Mostafa Tajzadeh, an acting interior minister under reformist former President Mohammad Khatami, suggested he was also shocked over the level of deceit by the government. “I must admit I couldn’t believe all the lies, secrecy, and deceit in the Islamic republic. Why and how did we reach this point?” he said on Twitter.
Speaking on January 13, government spokesman Ali Rabiei denied that the state concealed facts and misled the public, while acknowledging the public had lost trust in it.
He noted the plane was downed just a few hours after Iran had fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two U.S. bases in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing, and suggested the high tension between Washington and Tehran played a role.
“All armed forces were on high alert and this was the reason for the tragic mistake and the accident,” Rabiei was quoted as saying by state media.
‘A Swamp Of Distrust’
Despite such comments, criticism over the handling of the disaster has continued, including by hard-liners such as the editor in chief of the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency, who said Iran’s PR fiasco was as bad as the catastrophe itself. “Officials who misled the media are guilty too,” Kian Abdollahi said on Twitter, adding that “We are all ashamed before the people.”
In the past two days, IRGC commander Hossein Salami and the commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force, Amirali Hajizadeh, have publicly accepted blame and apologized for bringing the plane down and killing all 176 people aboard, mostly Iranians.
But rumors that several officials would submit their resignations over the event were quickly dismissed by state-controlled TV on January 12, resulting in criticism within the media.
“Just as the right of the people to protest is only acknowledged in interviews and on paper, the resignation or dismissal of officials due to inefficacy or negligence is only on paper and in the real world even reports about it are denied within a fraction of a second,” the popular news site Tabnak wrote.
It added that while the resignation of officials was seen as a “weakness” in Iran, such a measure would demonstrate “accountability” at a time when public trust has been badly shaken due to the attempts to mislead Iranians and the international community.
“It’s like falling into a swamp…the reason is that Khamenei believes acknowledging any criticism is weakness; he doesn’t want to apologize, and he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s falling into a swamp of distrust,” Alijani said.
“They’re claiming that Khamenei had not been informed [about the missile strike] for 48 hours, but those who know Khamenei realize it’s not possible that he wasn’t aware,” he added.
‘No Life Left In Me’
Amid the uproar, dozens of film directors, artists, and cartoonists said they will not participate in the country’s prestigious Fajr festival scheduled for April.
“The only way out of the current situation is a crucial decision and straight talking by authorities with the people,” the cartoonists said in a statement, while calling on the authorities to announce the cause of the tragedy and put those responsible on trial, while also holding “grand” funerals for the victims and declaring days of public mourning, as was done for Soleimani.
Prominent filmmaker Massoud Kimiaei said he’s pulling his movie out of the Fajr festival to express his condolences to the “many people [who died] who were travelers.”
For his part, pop singer Alireza Assar said in an Instagram video to his more than 110,000 followers that he was cancelling a Tehran concert due to the “bitter incidents” in the country since November that “have made all of us sad and left us in mourning.”
“The reality is that there’s no life in me left to sing during these days,” he said on Instagram on January 13.
Source » rferl