Wednesday 23 January 2019

Iran threatens death sentences for protesters as it rallies support

Women in the holy city of Qom show their support for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Photo: Mohammad Ali Marizad/AP
Women in the holy city of Qom show their support for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Photo: Mohammad Ali Marizad/AP

Josie Ensor

Iran's government has rallied tens of thousands of its supporters to counter anti-regime protests which have gripped the country for the last week.

The demonstrators turned out in towns and cities rocked by some of the largest riots in nearly a decade, where people have been protesting against rising costs and corruption.

Crowds in Qom, Ahvaz and Kermanshah waved Iranian flags and pictures of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as signs reading 'Death to seditionists'.

Some also held placards saying 'Death to America and Israel', referencing the ayatollah's comments on Tuesday accusing Iran's foreign enemies of fomenting the unrest.

The Fars news agency, ­affiliated to the elite Revolutionary Guards, described the well-­attended rallies as "the ­revolutionary outburst of ­Iranian people against ­lawbreakers".

Such rallies are often organised by the government to demonstrate its popular support and justify any crackdown on opposition demonstrations.

Some small anti-regime protests were held yesterday, but they lacked the intensity and numbers seen in previous days.

More than 21 people, including two teenage boys, have been killed in clashes in the last week. Some 1,000 have been arrested, with the head of Tehran's Revolutionary Court warning they could potentially face the death penalty.

While initially focusing on Iran's flagging economy and rising food prices, the protests developed into demands for wholesale change with anti-Khamenei and anti-Islamic Republic slogans - an outright rejection of the ruling system.

Hassan Rouhani, Iran's president, told his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he hoped the protests would come to an end in the coming days.

The Revolutionary Guards also claimed the protests were petering out. "Today we can announce the end of the sedition," said Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari. "There were a maximum of 1,500 people in each place and the number of troublemakers did not exceed 15,000 people nationwide."

But protesters said they would continue until their demands were met. "The regime is trying to show the world that they have more supporters than detractors by organising big rallies, but it will not silence us," one activist from Mashhad, using only the name Ali, said. "This isn't an ­overnight movement, this hasn't sprung up from nowhere."

Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, Iran's former government spokesperson, said the regime ignored the protesters' concerns at their peril.

"What are these lies? Which enemy?" he wrote on Twitter. "These are our youth. They are fed up with being ignored, unemployment, despair, poverty, lack of future and bias. I recommend the regime to listen and turn this into an opportunity for dialogue before the entire house burns down."

The US denied it was behind the protests, while at the same time encouraging Iranians to rise up against the regime.

President Donald Trump is hoping it may destablise the country he has called the "biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world".

In one Twitter message, he declared: "Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!"

EU ambassadors at the UN are concerned Mr Trump is trying to use the unrest as a vehicle to place pressure on governments to abandon support for the Iran nuclear deal signed by Barack Obama in 2015. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News