Iranian police warned antigovernment protesters against staging new rallies after arresting dozens of demonstrators in Tehran and the western city Kermanshah, even as the United States called for a “peaceful transition” of government in Iran.
Speaking on December 29 after a second day of protests against price hikes that turned political and spread to multiple Iranian cities, Mohsen Hamadani, a deputy governor of Tehran Province, was quoted by state media as saying that law enforcement agencies would take tough measures against any future gatherings.
“There is no authorization for such protests,” he was quoted as saying.
Despite the warning from Iranian authorities, the U.S. State Department and White House issued statements condemning the arrests and demanding that Tehran allow free expression by the protesters.
“There are many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with the regime’s corruption and its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
“The Iranian government should respect their people’s rights, including their right to express themselves. The world is watching,” she said.
The State Department’s spokeswoman said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was personally urging support for what he has described as “elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of government.”
“We urge all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption,” said spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
The protesters got some encouragement from Iranian clergy as well.
“Their protests, as well as other people’s reaction to high prices, are unquestionaby just,” said Ahmad Alam al-Hoda, a Friday prayer-leader and mid-ranking cleric in Iran’s second most populous city, Masshad, where the protests began on December 28.
But al-Hoda also questioned whether the protests weren’t also providing “food for hostile media” whose goal is “propagating sedition,” using terms often used to described independent news outlets.
In an unprecedented comment, the head of Mashhad’s revolutionary court, Hossein Haydari, said: “We consider protest to be the people’s right, but if some people want to abuse these emotions and ride this wave, we won’t wait and will confront them.”
Other clerics condemned the protests as “anti-Islam” and said Israel and the United States were behind them.
But the demonstrators were urged on by the exiled former Crown Prince of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, who said that “the uprising, once again showed that overthrowing theocracy in Iran is a national demand.”
Earlier on December 29 in Kermanshah, semiofficial news agencies Fars and Mehr reported that police dispersed a rally of some 300 people who chanted “Political prisoners should be freed” and “Freedom or death.”
Unconfirmed reports say that that up to 50 people were arrested in a demonstration in Kermanshah, on December 29, a day after hundreds protested against high prices and shouted political slogans in Mashhad.
Footage on social media showed protesters in Kermanshah’s central Azadi Square chanting “”Death to the dictator” and “The nation is struggling in poverty; The leader is trying to act as God.”
Various chants appeared to target both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, without naming him, and President Hassan Rohani.
Similar protests were reported in several other cities, including Rasht, Ahvaz, Ghazvin, Qom, Esfahan, and Hamadan among others.
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