Iran’s protests continue as demonstrators celebrate the deadly strike in the southeast
Protests in Iran raged in the streets on Thursday with demonstrators recalling a bloody crackdown in the country’s southeast, even as the country’s intelligence minister and army chief renewed threats against local dissent and the world at large.
Meanwhile, a top official in Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard claimed it had “achieved” possession of so-called hypersonic missiles, without providing any evidence.
The protests in Iran, sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman on September 16 following her detention by the country’s morality police, have grown into one of the biggest sustained challenges to the nation’s theocracy since the chaotic months following its Islamic 1979 Revolution.
At least 328 people have been killed and 14,825 others arrested in the unrest, according to Human Rights Watch in Iran, a group that has been monitoring the protests for their 54 days. For weeks, Iran’s government has been silent on the number of victims while state media counterfactually claims that security forces have not killed anyone.
As protesters now return to the streets to mark 40-day commemorations of those killed in the past – commemorations common in Iran and the wider Middle East – the protests could turn into cyclical confrontations between an increasingly disillusioned public and security forces turning to more violence to to suppress them.
Online videos emerging from Iran, despite government efforts to crack down on the internet, appeared to show demonstrations in Tehran, the capital, as well as cities elsewhere in the country. Near Isfahan, video showed clouds of tear gas. Cries of “Death to the dictator” could be heard – a common chant in the protests against Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It was not immediately clear if there were injuries or arrests in this round of protests, although Iran’s state news agency IRNA acknowledged the demonstrations near Isfahan. They celebrated the September 30 crackdown in Zahedan, a town in Iran’s restive Sistan and Baluchestan province, where activists say security forces killed nearly 100 people in the deadliest violence to hit the protests.
Meanwhile on Thursday, Guards General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said in a speech that his forces “managed” to acquire hypersonic missiles. However, he offered no photograph, video or other evidence to support the claim and the Guard’s massive ballistic missile program is not known to have any of the weapons in its arsenal.
Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, can pose critical challenges to missile defense systems due to their speed and maneuverability.
China is believed to be pursuing the weapons, as is America. Russia claims it is already fielding the weapons and has said it used them on the battlefield in Ukraine.
Iranian officials have continued with their threats against the protesters and the outside world. In an interview on Khamenei’s personal website, Iran’s Intelligence Minister Esmail Khatib renewed threats against Saudi Arabia, a nation along with Britain, Israel and the United States that officials have accused of fomenting unrest that appears focused on local grievances.
Khatib warned that Iran’s “strategic patience” may be running out.
“Throwing stones at mighty Iran by countries sitting in glass houses has no other meaning than crossing the limits of rationality into the darkness of stupidity,” Khatib said. “Without a doubt, if the will of the Islamic Republic of Iran is given to retaliate and punish these countries, the glass palace will collapse and these countries will not see stability.”
Iran blames Iran International, a London-based Farsi-language satellite news channel once majority-owned by a Saudi national, for inciting protesters. In recent days, the broadcaster said the Metropolitan Police warned that two of its British-Iranian journalists faced threats from Iran that “represent an imminent, credible and significant risk to their lives and those of their families.”
Last week, U.S. officials said Saudi Arabia shared intelligence with America that suggests Iran may be preparing for an imminent attack on the kingdom. Iran later called the claim “baseless”, although threats from Tehran continue.
The commander of the ground forces of Iran’s regular army, Brig. General Kiumars Heydari separately issued his own threat against the protesters, whom he called “flies”.
“If these flies are not treated today as revolutionary society expects, that is the will of the supreme leader of the revolution,” he reportedly said. “But the day he issues an order to deal with them, they will definitely have no place in the country.”