This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
President Hassan Rohani blasted a U.S. “conspiracy” against Iran as the country marked the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution that ended the monarchy and heralded the start of four decades of clerical rule.
Addressing tens of thousands of people gathered on Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square on February 11, Rohani also said that Iran was determined to expand its military power and missile program despite mounting pressure from the United States and its allies.
Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, militia members in camouflage fatigues, clerics, and ordinary citizens flocked to the streets of other Iranian cities and towns to commemorate February 11, 1979, when followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ousted a U.S.-backed monarch, Shah Reza Pahlavi.
Banners held by marchers or hung in the streets bore slogans including “Death to America,” “Death to Israel,” and “40 years of challenge, 40 years of U.S. defeats.”
The festivities to mark the Iranian Revolution start every year on February 1, the day that Khomeini returned from exile to become supreme leader of the Islamic republic. They end on February 11, the day that the outgoing government collapsed.
This year’s celebrations come amid heightened tensions with the United States, which last year withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers and reimposed tough sanctions on the Iranian economy.
In a tweet that was also sent out in Persian, Trump said: “40 years of corruption. 40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure.”
“The long-suffering Iranian people deserve a much brighter future,” he added.
Earlier on February 11, Trump’s national-security adviser, John Bolton, tweeted: “It’s been 40 yrs of failure. Now it’s up to the Iranian regime to change its behavior, & ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country.”
Iran’s Islamic Revolution four decades ago inflicted “failure and broken promises” on the country, Bolton said, adding that Washington would support “the will of the Iranian people, & stand behind them to ensure their voices are heard.”
European signatories of the 2015 deal, under which Tehran pledged to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, have been trying to save the accord.
In a February 8 speech to a gathering of Iranian Army Air Force officers, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Iran will not give up the “Death to America” chant as long as Washington continues its hostile policies toward Tehran.
In his address on Tehran’s Azadi Square, Rohani said the “enemy will never reach its evil objectives,” vowing that Iran will defeat U.S. sanctions.
“The Iranian people have and will have some economic difficulties but we will overcome the problems by helping each other,” he said.
Iran’s president also insisted that Iranians “have not asked and will not ask for permission” to develop different types of missiles, Rohani said.
Following reports of a second failed space launch by Iran in less than a month, the U.S. State Department last week called for “tougher international restrictions to deter Iran’s missile program.”
The European Union has also criticized Iran over its “destabilizing” ballistic-missile program, its “hostile activities” in several EU member states, and its meddling in countries in the Middle East.
Dismissing calls that Iranian regional influence should be curbed, the deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was quoted as saying on February 11 that “the enemy cannot ask us to leave the region.”
“They must leave the region,” Brigadier General Hossein Salami said.
Ahead of the celebrations, Iranian officials announced that up to 50,000 prisoners would either be released or have their sentences reduced.
According to official figures, nearly 250,000 people are incarcerated in Iran.
It was not clear whether the amnesty would also apply to political prisoners.
In a report coinciding with the celebrations, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that 61,900 political prisoners had been held in Iran since the 1980s.
Citing leaked Iranian Judiciary documents, the Paris-based media watchdog also said that the authorities had arrested, imprisoned, or executed at least 860 journalists in the three decades between the 1979 revolution and 2009.