Middle EastAnalysis

Crackdown fails to silence Iranian protesters

Badri Hosseini Khamenei, the ayatollah’s sister, condemns “despotic caliphate” of Ali Khamenei

Protests and strikes continued across Iran on Wednesday as the country marked National Students Day commemorating the 1953 deaths of three students detained by the ousted shah’s security apparatus.

Schools, universities and shops were shuttered at the culmination of a three-day stoppage while protesters continued to demand an end to the clerical government in place since 1979. Shopkeepers in Tehran’s main bazaar and major cities, former pillars of the regime, defied threats that they could lose their licences if they closed, while labour unions ordered striking members to maintain unity.

In an address to students at Tehran University, the official news agency IRNA reported that Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi said the government was always ready to listen to them. He blamed the US for “riots”, the regime’s term for nationwide unrest.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told its cultural council on Tuesday to undertake “revolutionary reconstruction of the country’s cultural system” within the parameters set by the Islamic Republic, while eschewing western influences.


The ayatollah’s sister, Badri Hosseini Khamenei, condemned his crackdown on protests and, in a letter to her Paris-based son quoted by Reuters, expressed her “sympathy with all mothers mourning the crimes of the Islamic Republic, from the time of [founder Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini to the current era of the despotic caliphate of Ali Khamenei”.

In a rare public comment broadcast by Iranian media, reformist leader and ex-president Mohammed Khatami criticised the arrests of students and said the “beautiful slogan [of] women, life, freedom” proved that Iran was advancing toward better governance.

Iran’s senior Sunni cleric Molavi Abdolhamid, who is a long-standing critic of the government, tweeted that, if proven, reports of sexual assaults against female prisoners would show that the perpetrators were the “real corrupters on earth”, an accusation levelled at dissidents by the authorities. The highest numbers of fatalities, arrests and death sentences have been among restive Sunni Kurds and members of the Baluch minority.

Launched in mid-September after the death of Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police for “improperly” wearing her hijab, or headscarf, the protests have spread to 150 cities, 140 universities and scores of schools in all 31 Iranian provinces. Since then, more than 488 protesters and 61 security personnel have been killed, and 18,000 arrested, expatriate Iran human rights groups report.

On Monday, Iran’s attorney general, Mohammed Jafar Montazeri, said the morality police had been “shut down” by the presidency and the compulsory hijab for women was under discussion by parliament and the judiciary. However, there has been no confirmation and spokesman for the Headquarters of Promoting Virtue and Prohibiting Vice, Ali Khan-Mohammadi, said that while morality police patrols may be over, hijab supervision would continue and “violators and norm-breakers will be dealt with”.