Manaksha Memon describes the growing public rage in Iran
The public Iranian protests linger on in Iran are lingering on despite the authorities not prepared to pay heed to the demands of the protestors and the impasse has shown no chance of getting resolved. In a new development Iran has for the first time reported that over 300 people have died in over two months of protests and this information has been given by Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Guard’s aerospace division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Iranian toll includes those who have taken to the streets as well as dozens of police, troops and IRGC militia who have died in clashes with demonstrators or who were killed elsewhere. The latest official death toll is much closer to the figure of at least 416 people given by human rights groups. According to judicial authorities, thousands of Iranians and around 40 foreigners have been arrested and more than 2,000 people have been charged.
In an intriguing development Iranian authorities have arrested a niece of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, named Farideh Moradkhani, and after she recorded a video describing the authorities led by her uncle as a murderous and child-killing regime. Moradkhani is the daughter of Khamenei’s sister Badri who fell out with her family in the 1980s and fled to Iraq at the peak of the war with Iran’s neighbour. She had gained prominence as an anti-death penalty activist and was last arrested in January this year. That arrest came after an October 2021 video conference in which she lavishly praised Farah Diba, the widow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who was ousted by the 1979 Islamic Revolution. She had then been released on bail in April and her arrest last Wednesday was to begin serving an existing 15-year sentence. The charges were not immediately clear.
On the other hand, Iran’s Supreme Leader has praised the country’s Basij paramilitary force for its role in the deadly crackdown on anti-regime protesters. Khamenei’s words come days after United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Chief Volker Turk warned Iran is in a full-fledged human rights crisis due to the clampdown on anti-regime dissidents. The UN’s human rights council (HRC) has voted overwhelmingly to set up a fact-finding investigation into human rights abuses in Iran where an estimated 300 people have been killed and 14,000 arrested since protests began 10 weeks ago. At a special session convened by Germany in Geneva the HRC voted by 25 to six to set up the inquiry, with 15 abstaining. The vote is regarded as a significant victory for human rights defenders, since a mechanism now exists to file evidence of abuses by the state, making the possibility of prosecutions in international courts more likely. The UN has never set up such a powerful mechanism in respect of Iran before. Western powers have been imposing asset freezes and travel bans on individual security agents behind the repression, but in practice these sanctions have little impact.
It is reported that security forces have unleashed a tough crackdown on demonstrators, with reports of forced detentions and physical abuse being used to target the country’s Kurdish minority. The unprecedented national uprising has taken hold of more than 150 cities and 140 universities in all 31 provinces of Iran. The violent response of Iran’s security forces toward protesters has shaken diplomatic ties between Tehran and Western leaders. America has imposed its latest round of sanctions on three officials in Iran’s Kurdish region, after US Secretary Antony Blinken said he was greatly concerned that Iranian authorities are reportedly escalating violence against protesters.
The unrest has posed one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s rulers since they came to power in 1979, with previous bouts of sustained protest eventually being crushed. More Revolutionary Guards armoured units and Special Forces were heading to the west and northwest border regions, home to the Kurdish minority. Iran has accused Western countries of orchestrating the unrest and has accused protesters in ethnic minority regions of working on behalf of separatist groups. It has escalated its crackdown in Kurdish areas. In the meanwhile Iran said it had struck a Kurdish group in northern Iraq, the latest of several missile and drone attacks on Kurdish dissidents in recent weeks. Baloch women were shown in a video posted by the Iran Human Rights Group marching and videos posted by other activists and rights groups showed men marching in Zahedan, shouting slogans against Iran’s supreme leader, the Basij militia and Revolutionary Guards.
In another development a strong posse of London police is positioned to guard the offices of Iran International, an independent Farsi-language news channel that has incurred the fury of Iran’s regime. This armed police operation is reported to be the biggest armed police operation around a commercial building in the United Kingdom and is reminiscent of Tony Blair’s deployment of armoured vehicles to Heathrow in February 2003 in response to a perceived terror threat. Founded in 2017 by a former BBC Persian journalist, Iran International broadcasts into Iran by satellite. It has been providing 24-hour rolling news coverage of the huge street protests in Iran.
London Metropolitan Police has responded to the threats with a large show of force to protect the 100 or so employees of Iran International some of whom have personally received death threats. It seems that planning discussions of actual attacks have been intercepted by UK intelligence. There has also been hostile surveillance spotted outside both the offices of Iran International and the homes of some of its staff. The hostile surveillance has not always been that sophisticated and one example of it is of two men and a woman wheeling a pram up and down outside the building on a cold evening while taking photographs at 11pm. TW