This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Authorities in Iran have warned of a harsh response to the massive protests that have reached a reported 100 towns and cities across the country.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on November 17, without elaborating, that “some lost their lives and some places were destroyed” during the protests. He called the demonstrators “thugs.”
His comments came after clashes between protesters and police in several cities. Iran’s Fars News Agency reported that about 1,000 people had been arrested.
According to state media reports, more than 100 banks and shops have been set on fire during the demonstrations.
Khamenei said he supported a government decision to hike gasoline prices, which sparked the three days of unrest beginning on November 15.
President Hassan Rohani said the same day that the government would not allow “insecurity.”
The IRNA state news agency quoted an Interior Ministry source as saying it would “spare no efforts” to restore order.
Prosecutor-General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri claimed “the instigators are undoubtedly being directed from abroad and their actions are illegal and criminal.”
The ISNA state news agency reported that a police officer was killed on November 17 in the western city of Kermanshah during a clash with protesters. Another clash in the southern city of Sirjan on November 15 left one person dead and several injured, according to a local official.
Internet access, meanwhile, was reportedly still blocked in much of the country, including parts of Tehran, according to an independent NGO that monitors Internet access around the world, even though the authorities said on November 16 that the shutdown would only last 24 hours.
U.S. Slams ‘Lethal Force’
In the United States, the White House issued a statement expressing “support” for “the Iranian people in their peaceful protests.”
“We condemn the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators,” the statement said.
U.S. President Donald Trump reimposed economic sanctions on Iran earlier this year, accusing Tehran of violating a 2015 nuclear deal, and continuing to expand its missile programs.
In August and November 2018, Washington reintroduced sanctions that particularly targeted Iran’s oil and finance sectors. The measures followed an outline that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released in May 2018 of 12 stringent conditions for any “new deal.” They include not only new nuclear commitments but also a complete scaling-back of Iran’s role in the Gulf region.
In his comments on state television, Khamenei accused unnamed foreign forces of sabotage, and he urged security forces to “implement their tasks,” without elaborating.
“Some people are no doubt worried by this decision … but sabotage and arson are done by hooligans not our people. The counterrevolution and Iran’s enemies have always supported sabotage and breaches of security and continue to do so,” Khamenei said.
“Unfortunately, some problems were caused, a number of people lost their lives and some centers were destroyed,” he added.
The demonstrations, which were not as widespread as some in the recent past, saw motorists in some cities reportedly blocking roads by turning off car engines.
The protests could put additional pressure on President Rohani ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for February.
Lawmaker Mohammad Qassim Osmani resigned his post on November 17, state media reported. In a speech, Osmani criticized parliament speaker Ali Larijani for not allowing lawmakers to express their opinions about the protests.
Iranians on social media reported receiving threatening text messages by the judiciary warning them not to attend protests. The texts called the protests “illegal” while warning that those attending the rallies could face prosecution.
State television accused “hostile media” of trying to exaggerate the size of demonstrations by “using fake news and videos on social media.”
NetBlocks, an organization that monitors Internet connectivity, reported major Internet disruptions across the country on November 17. Earlier, the group said the country was “in the midst of a near-total national Internet shutdown.”
Fuel rationing introduced in 2007 under former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to curb consumption led to anger and violence, including the torching of several gas stations. It was halted in 2015.