In recent days, news headlines across the globe have been dominated by countrywide protest action taking place in Iran as the nation’s people launched the most aggressive challenge of the religious status quo since the 2009 protests that rejected the re-election of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Thus far roughly 13 people have been reported dead as violent clashes erupted in cities across Iran. The worst hit metropolitan centers include Kermanshah, Najafabad, Tuyserkan, Mashhad, and the capital city Tehran with its nearly nine million residents.
Social media has been ablaze with videos showing intense clashes between police and protesters, with buildings being set on fire and multiple shootouts. In Qahderijan, as demonstrators were trying to take command of a local police station, a raging fire erupted in the building as gunfire was exchanged between security forces and dissidents.
Violence has continued to escalate despite a televised call for order on Sunday night from President Hassan Rouhani. According to a report by Reuters, the president assured citizens that they had a right to express displeasure, but urged them to execute their right without the use of aggressive force and unrest.
Iranian state television reported various incidents, including a demonstrator in Najafabad using a hunting rifle to kill and wound members of the local security forces. In the city of Tuyserkan, three protesters were reportedly fatally injured during clashes on Sunday. Meanwhile, according to Hamadan province’s Governor Saeed Shahrokhi, another 10 protesters were killed in other parts of Iran.
Iranian clerical leaders have maintained political authority in the country since the 1979 Islamic Revolution which resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 revolutionaries.
The Iranian government has taken a hard-line approach to the civil unrest and has arrested hundreds of protesters in an attempt to quell the violence. In Tehran, police used powerful water cannons to disperse gathered crowds, as seen on footage circulated on social media.
Much of the frustration of dissidents has been directed at Iran’s highest authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has been reigning supreme in Iran since 1989. As can be seen in the footage below, large crowds marched through the streets of Mashhad chanting, “Death to the dictator.”
While delivering his nationally televised address on Sunday night, President Rouhani warned protesters that “the government will show no tolerance for those who damage public property, violate public order and create unrest in society.”
On Monday, Rouhani reinforced his support for Iranians’ right to voice concerns in a tweet.
“People want to talk about economic problems, corruption and lack of transparency in the function of some of the organs and want the atmosphere to be more open,” he wrote. “The requests and demands of the people should be taken note of.”
Despite President Rouhani’s more conciliatory tone, Iran’s deputy interior minister, Hossein Zolfaghari, has issued a stern warning to demonstrators that “from tonight the unrest will be controlled more seriously.”
There have been unconfirmed reports that the government of Iran has taken measures to restrict internet access in specific areas. Similar accounts also confirmed that access to apps such as Telegram and Instagram had been temporarily blocked.
Meanwhile, protest leaders have been rallying for increased support on social media, calling for Iranians to continue to build on demonstrations in over 50 cities and towns across the country.