TEHRAN: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Friday dismissed a pledge from US leader Joe Biden to “free Iran” as the clerical regime faced a new upsurge in seven weeks of protests.
The protests began after the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini who had been arrested by the morality police. In their scale, nationwide spread and anti-regime nature, the demonstrations have become the biggest challenge from the street to the authorities since the 1979 revolution.
Campaigning for mid-term elections in the United States, Biden had said: “Don’t worry we’re gonna free Iran. They’re gonna free themselves pretty soon.”
Raisi retorted that Iran had already been freed by the overthrow of the Western-backed shah in 1979. He quipped that Biden’s memory lapse was “probably due to the absent-mindedness that he suffers from”.
“Our young men and young women are determined and we will never allow you to carry out your satanic desires,” he told a gathering commemorating the November 1979 seizure of the US embassy in Tehran by radical students.
– ‘Brutal and disproportionate’ –
The problems for Iran’s system under supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 83, are compounded by the tradition of holding mourning ceremonies 40 days after a death, meaning each death can spark new protests six weeks on.
Thursday had seen fierce clashes between protesters and security forces at such a ceremony in Karaj outside Tehran, which according to state media resulted in the deaths of one member of Iran’s Basij paramilitary force and two other unidentified people.
On Friday, mourners in Iran’s third largest city Isfahan chanted anti-government slogans at the 40-day ceremony for Shirin Alizadeh, 36, who was shot dead in her car on September 21 while filming a protest on the Caspian Sea coast.
However security forces opened fire in a bid to prevent the ceremony from taking place, the 1500tasvir monitoring channel said.
Human rights group Amnesty International said it was told by witnesses that security forces had fired metal pellets and tear gas to disperse mourners and several bereaved relatives had been wounded.
In a statement after talks in Germany, G7 foreign ministers condemned “the brutal and disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters.”
According to an updated death toll issued Wednesday by Norway-based Iran Human Rights, 176 people have been killed in the security forces’ response to protests sparked by Amini’s death.
Another 101 people have lost their lives in separate protests in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan.
In a new flare-up in the mainly Sunni Muslim province after the killing of a Shiite cleric this week, security forces fired on protesters in the town of Khash, south of provincial capital Zahedan, NGOs said.
Amnesty International said up to 10 people, including children, were feared to have been killed in the crackdown Friday, with dozens more injured.
Norway-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR) posted video of bloodied victims being carried away.
The official IRNA news agency said several police had been wounded by stone-throwing protesters who set fire to a police patrol post.
– Mass arrests –
Mass arrests have seen 1,000 people charged so far and activists say many risks the death penalty.
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 54 journalists have been arrested, with a dozen confirmed released on bail so far.
The latest confirmed to be held is Nazila Maroufian, a Tehran-based journalist from Amini’s hometown of Saqez in Kurdistan province, who was detained on Sunday, the Norway-based Hengaw rights group said.
She had published an interview with Amini’s father in defiance of warnings from the authorities, the journalist wrote on Twitter before her arrest.
According to Hengaw, Saman Yasin, a singer from the Kurdish-populated city of Kermanshah in western Iran who was arrested in October, has now been charged with “waging war against God”.
The charge, which carries the death penalty, is based on Islamic sharia law and frequently used against opponents of the Iranian authorities. Hengaw said Yasin has supported the protests in songs and on social media.
Activists meanwhile condemned as a forced confession a video published by Iran’s state-run media of Toomaj Salehi, a prominent rapper arrested at the weekend after backing the protests.
The video shows a blindfolded man, who says he is Salehi, admitting to making “a mistake”.
There is also growing concern about the well-being of Wall Street Journal contributor and freedom of expression campaigner Hossein Ronaghi, who was arrested in September.
According to his family, he is on hunger strike after sustaining two broken legs in custody.