Hundreds arrested, at least 21 dead as Iran protests rage on

Protests against economic hardship and political repression in the country started last week

2 January 2018, 5:32pm
A protester in Tehran hoists her mandatory hijab on a stick
A protester in Tehran hoists her mandatory hijab on a stick
Large scale protests have left at least 21 dead in Iran as people have taken to the streets in cities across the country to protest against economic hardship and political repression.

The demonstrations are the biggest in the country since 2009, when millions demanded the re-run of a disputed presidential election. Demonstrations started in Iran's second city of Mashhad on Thursday, when large crowds of people protested against high prices of basic necessities. Since then, unrest has spread to around 25 localities, including the capital Tehran.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to vent their anger at the country’s establishment. The protests turned violent in a number of locations and state media report that at least 21 people have been killed in clashes with security forces. Hundreds have also been arrested. A variety of groups are thought to be taking part and this seems to be a movement without national leaders. Many of the protesters appear to be poor, unemployed people who are struggling to feed their families.

The demonstrations were initially about the failure of President Hassan Rouhani's government to revive Iran's struggling economy, address high unemployment and inflation, and combat alleged corruption. Before long, however, protesters had moved on to politics, with protesters chanting "death to the dictator" - apparently a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - on Sunday. The protesters in Mashhad on Thursday were dispersed with water cannon and a small number of people were arrested and as the protests spread, the authorities responded ever more harshly.

Rouhani - a moderate who agreed a 2015 deal to limit Iran's nuclear programme in return for the lifting of economic sanctions - said on Sunday that Iranians were "absolutely free to criticise the government and protest," but warned that security forces would "show no tolerance for those who damage public properties, violate public order and create unrest in the society".

His appeal for time to resolve Iran’s problems appears to have fallen upon deaf ears, however. On Tuesday, Ayatollah Khamenei announced that "enemies of Iran" were using their "money, weapons, politics and intelligence services to trouble the Islamic Republic". Iran has also blocked access to social media websites and the messaging app Telegram, which is used by millions of Iranians, in an attempt to stop communications and calls for protests.