Students defy Iran’s protest alarm, unrest enters more serious phase

  • The protests show no signs of abating amid severe warnings from the state
  • Clashes between university students and security forces
  • Journalists demand the release of their imprisoned colleagues
  • Rights groups talk about arrests of activists and students

DUBAI (Reuters) – Videos on social media showed that weeks of protests in Iran entered a more violent phase on Sunday as students defied an ultimatum from the Revolutionary Guards and were met with tear gas, beatings and gunfire by riot police and militias.

The confrontations in dozens of universities have raised the threat of a tougher crackdown in the seventh week of demonstrations since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was arrested by morality police for wearing inappropriate clothes.

Iranians from all walks of life have been demonstrating since Amini’s death.

What began as an outcry over Amini’s death on September 16, has developed into one of the toughest challenges for clerical rulers since the 1979 revolution, with some protesters calling for the death of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The commander-in-chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards told protesters that Saturday would be the last day they would take to the streets, the harshest warning from Iranian authorities yet.

However, videos on social media, which Reuters could not verify, showed clashes between students, riot police and Basij forces on Sunday at universities across Iran.

One of the videos showed a member of the Basij forces firing a handgun at close range at students protesting at the branch of Azad University in Tehran. Gunshots were also heard in a video shared by the human rights group HENGAW from protests at Kurdistan University in Sanandaj.

Videos from universities in other cities showed Basij forces opening fire on students.

Across the country, security forces attempted to block students inside university buildings, firing tear gas and beating protesters with sticks. The students, who appeared to be unarmed, were pushed back, some chanting “Basij Shame be lost” and “Death to Khamenei.”

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Social media reported the arrest of at least ten doctors, journalists, and artists since Saturday.

The activist Iranian news agency said 283 protesters had been killed in the unrest as of Saturday, including 44 minors. About 34 members of the security forces were also killed.

It added that more than 14,000 people were arrested, including 253 students, in protests in 132 cities and towns, and 122 universities.

The Revolutionary Guard and its Basij forces have crushed the opposition in the past. On Sunday, they said “separatists” were humiliating them on campuses and on the streets, and warned they could use more force if anti-government unrest continues.

“So far, the Basij has shown restraint and patience,” the IRNA news agency quoted the commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Khorasan Province Junobi, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Mahdavi, as saying.

But it will get out of our control if the situation continues.”

Journalists’ call

More than 300 Iranian journalists demanded the release of their colleagues imprisoned for their coverage of Amini in a statement published by Iran’s Etemad newspaper and other newspapers on Sunday.

Nilofar Hamidi captured a picture of Amini’s parents embracing in a Tehran hospital as their daughter lay in a coma.

The photo, which Hamidi posted on Twitter, was the first sign to the world that all is well with Amini, who was arrested three days earlier by Iran’s morality police for what they considered improper dress.

The goddess Mohammadi covered Amini’s funeral in her Kurdish hometown of Saqqaz, where the protests began. A joint statement issued by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence on Friday accused Hamidi and Mohammadi of being foreign agents of the CIA.

The arrests fit an official narrative that Iran’s archenemy, the United States, Israel and other Western powers and their local proxies, are behind the unrest and bent on destabilizing the country.

At least 40 journalists have been arrested in the past six weeks, according to rights groups, and the number is growing.

Students and women played a prominent role in the unrest, burning their headscarves as the masses demanded the overthrow of the Islamic Republic that came to power in 1979.

On Sunday, an official said the foundation had no plan to undo the compulsory veil but that it should be “prudent” about implementation.

“Removing the veil is against our law, and this headquarters will not back down,” Ali Khan Mohammadi, a spokesman for the headquarters of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Iran, told Khabar Online.

However, our actions must be wise to avoid giving enemies an excuse to use against us.

The apparent hint of compromise is unlikely to satisfy the protesters, most of whose demands have moved beyond a change of dress code to calls for an end to clerical rule.

In another apparent attempt to defuse the situation, Parliament Speaker Muhammad Baqir Qalibaf said the people were right to demand change and that their demands would be met if they distanced themselves from the “criminals” who took to the streets.

“We consider the protests not only valid and the reason for progress, but we also believe that these social movements will change policies and decisions provided that they are separated from violent people, criminals and separatists,” he said, using the terms of officials. Usually used for demonstrators.

Written by Michael Georgi. Editing by Nick McPhee, Philippa Fletcher and Angus McSwan

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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