This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Iranian state media say eight people “linked to the CIA” have been arrested during street violence that erupted in nationwide demonstrations against the Iranian government’s decision to ration gasoline purchases and cut subsidies.
“Some elements who tried to collect information about the recent riots and send them out of the country…were identified and arrested,” state news agency IRNA quoted the director-general of the Intelligence Ministry’s counterespionage department as saying. IRNA didn’t name the official.
Six of those arrested were alleged to have been “attending the riots and carrying out orders” and two others were accused of trying to collect information and transfer it abroad, IRNA said late on November 27.
The news agency said they had all been “trained in different countries on how to collect information…as citizen-journalists.”
The report came shortly after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called the recent unrest a “dangerous conspiracy” orchestrated by the United States.
Human rights groups say more than 140 people were killed and up to 7,000 detained during the protests that rocked more than 100 towns and cities across Iran last week.
The extent of the crackdown against the protests that broke out on the evening of November 15 remains unclear, mainly due to a near-total Internet blackout imposed by the authorities for several days.
Authorities have yet to publish any definitive official death toll for the unrest that saw protesters attack police stations, torch gasoline pumps, and loot shops.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on November 26 that Washington had received nearly 20,000 “messages, videos, pictures, notes” from Iranians depicting what he called “human rights abuses” in Tehran’s response to the protests.
Pompeo said Tehran had last week “shut down the Internet to prevent the truth about the protests from getting out” and that he asked Iranians to “share their messages” depicting the situation inside the country as connectivity returns to near-normal levels.
Pompeo said he and President Donald Trump had been closely following the protests in what the secretary called the “world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”