A series of public protests occurred in various cities throughout Iran beginning on 28 December 2017 and continuing into 2018. The first protest took place in Mashhad, Iran's second-largest city by population, initially focused on the economic policies of the country's government; however, as protests spread throughout the country, their scope expanded to include political opposition to the theocratic regime of Iran and its longtime Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. According to The Washington Post, protesters' chants and attacks on government buildings upended a system that had little tolerance for dissent, with some demonstrators even shouting "Death to the dictator!" — referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and asking security forces to join them.
The protests mark the most intense domestic challenge to the Iranian government since the 2009 presidential election protests. However, these protests differ from the Green movement in participants, causes, goals, and chants.
While some analysts suggest the protests are a result of unfavorable economic policies adopted by the administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, others say that dissatisfaction with the theocratic regime and the Supreme Leader are the actual causes of the unrest. Rouhani acknowledged on 8 January 2018 that "people had economic, political and social demands".
According to Iranian authorities, protests turned violent in some parts of the country, and Iranian state television reported that the protesters attacked police stations and military personnel and installations, and started fires. As of 2 January 2018, at least twenty-one protesters and two security force members had been killed. Additionally, 3,700 demonstrators were arrested according to Mahmoud Sadeghi, a reformist lawmaker from Tehran, though official figures were much lower. On 5 January 2018, four special rapporteurs of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Iranian government to acknowledge and respect rights of protesters and end its blocking of the Internet.
In a backlash against the protests, thousands of government supporters staged pro-government rallies in more than a dozen cities across Iran.
In 2006, following international concerns regarding the government's nuclear program, a comprehensive, international sanctions regime was imposed on Iran. In 2015, Iran negotiated a deal with the great powers of the world in exchange for economic relief. Many Iranians hoped relief from sanctions would result in economic prosperity; however, benefits have not reached the average Iranian. Instead, the benefit from sanctions relief mostly went to state firms and Setad controlled by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, estimated by Reuters at $95 billion in 2013. In 2017, according to the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, 33% of Iranians lived below the poverty line, and the gap between the rich and poor has deepened.CNN's Hamid Panah argued that these distributional developments in the economy helped stoke the protests. Recent economic hardships have appeared to incite economic protests and shine light on government corruption.
The initial spark for the protests was a sudden jump in food prices. It is believed that hard-line opponents of Rouhani instigated the first demonstrations in the conservative city of Mashhad in eastern Iran, trying to direct public anger at the president. But as protests spread from town to town, the backlash turned against the entire ruling class."
In order to deflect criticism about the economy, Rouhani had been complaining for several weeks about government money going to religious institutions, which are seen as the power-base of the hard-liners; according to international media reports, analysts believe that hard-liners started the protests as a means to embarrass Rouhani.
Protesters registered their opposition to cuts to fuel and cash subsidies, contained in the 2018 budget proposal unveiled in mid-December, which caused widespread anger, with the hashtag #pashimanam ("we regret" [i.e. we regret our vote for Rouhani]) going viral across the country. The generous government funding of the Revolutionary Guards remained unaffected, and there were large increases for religious foundations, which are not required to declare how they spend their funds, and are "tied closely to powerful clerics and often serve as machines for patronage and propaganda to build support for their authority."
In some demonstrations, protestors provocatively chanted "Reza Shah, bless your soul", a reference to Reza Shah, the leader of Iran during 1925–41 and founder of the Pahlavi dynasty that was deposed in the 1979 revolution that led to establishment of the current government. Protestors also shouted slogans praising the (deceased) deposed shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and his son and former heir-apparent, the exiled Reza Pahlavi, Crown Prince of Iran. The protesters called for Khamenei to step down, as well as tore down and set fire to posters of Khamenei in Tehran. Protesters also shouted: "Khamenei, shame on you, leave the country alone!" and "death to the dictator". Protesters also chanted "People are paupers while the mullahs live like gods."
The protests in Iran erupted on 28 December 2017. Several crowds were seen protesting across Iran, including in Mashhad, the second most populous city, as well as a several hundred person protest in Tehran, the capital. There were also protests in Neyshabour, Kashmar, Yazd and Shahroud. The protests were allegedly organised on social media messaging apps. Crowds were seen chanting "We don't want an Islamic Republic!", "death to Rouhani", as well as "death to the dictator".
The protests were initially for economic woes, against the high price of goods and commodities, but has "quickly changed" to protesting Iranian involvement in the Middle East, as well as the government itself.[excessive citations]
On 30 December the protests escalated, as three were killed and others wounded in shooting by Revolutionary Guards during night protests in central Iran. As Saturday coincided with the anniversary of 30 December 2009 pro-government rally in Iran, some 4000 people attended a pro-government rally in Tehran. According to state television, pro-government rallies were held in 1200 towns and cities in all. At the same time, anti-government riots spread to Tehran for the first time, where students in Tehran University chanted anti-government slogans before getting dispersed by riot police. Posters of Khamenei were torn down at Tehran University. Internet access was shut down in parts of the country, including many areas in Tehran.
Iran's interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli warned that those who "disrupt the order and break the law must be responsible for their behavior and pay the price". Rahmani Fazli said in a statement on state television that "fear and terror will definitely be confronted."VOA Persian's service identified the victims as Hamzeh Lashni and Hossein Reshno after a reporter spoke to the victims' families.
Anti-government protests continued for a fourth day. Some scattered demonstrations in Tehran and families of arrested protesters gathering outside Evin prison. 200 people were arrested in Tehran on Sunday, and another 10 were arrested in West Azerbaijan province.
Rouhani, in his first comments after days of anti-government demonstrations said people have the right to protest but stressed violence, vandalism and inflammatory political slogans must be avoided as these only worsen the conditions of the people.
According to Iran's State media accounts, which could not be confirmed by independent sources, some armed demonstrators tried to take control of police stations and military bases but were repulsed by security forces. It was confirmed that 10 people had been killed during clashes Sunday night.
Anti-government protests in Tehran, 31 December 2017
Protests continued on Monday in Tehran and other cities throughout the country. State media reported that one member of the government security forces was shot and killed during protests on 1 January.
Clashes overnight between protesters and security forces killed nine people. State television reported that six of these deaths occurred after rioters tried to storm a police station in Qahdarijan with the intention of stealing weapons. Additionally, an 11-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man were killed in the town of Khomeinishahr, and a Revolutionary Guard member was killed in Najafabad. All three were killed with hunting rifles. 550 people had been arrested since the start of protests. 90 percent of those arrested are younger than 25 years old.
According to an Iranian intelligence ministry announcement on 4 January, three IRGC members were killed dismantling an anti-government "terrorist cell" in northwestern city of Piranshar. Per IRGC, the "terrorist cell", which possessed weapons and explosives, was said to have been assigned with bombings and murder of innocents in Iran in order to escalate the unrest. On Thursday, 4 January, anti–government demonstrations were held in the cities of Sanandaj, Bukan, Kamyaran, Dezful, Ahvaz and Rasht.
UN human rights experts urged Iran to respect rights of protesters, and end the Internet crackdown.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard said that Iran's people and security forces, including the Basij, police, and Intelligence Ministry, had defeated the unrest. The IRGC said the United States, Britain, Israel, Saudi Arabia, People's Mujahedin of Iran, and monarchists were responsible for the unrest. For the fifth day, staged rallies were held against the anti-government protests. However, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, signs of unrest remain, with dozens of videos circulating in social media showing the burning of government documents.
According to a report in Al-Quds Al-Arabi, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have been arrested in Iran and kept under house arrest with the approval of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, for "inciting violence", after he criticized the current government of Iran during the protests.
Thousands of demonstrators holding placards with pictures of Reza Pahlavi II marched in Los Angeles, home to a large Iranian expatriate community, to show support for anti-regime protests in Iran. Some 2,000 protesters in Westwood, California, rallied in support of the protesters in Iran.
On 1 August, protests occurred in several Iranian cities. The protests began in Isfahan and continued in Karaj. In videos that circulated on social media, purportedly filmed in the town of Gohardasht, a suburb of Karaj, dozens of demonstrators were seen in the streets setting fire to police vehicles and shouting "Death to the dictator". Police responded with tear gas. The authenticity of the videos could not immediately be verified.
Protests broke out on August 2nd across several Iranian cities, including Mashhad, Kara, and Shiraz, and Tehran. Chants during demonstrators included "Death to the Dictator".
On 3 August, street protests took place in the capital Tehran, and nine other cities: Ahvaz, Hamedan, Isfahan, Karaj, Kermanshah, Mashhad, Shiraz, Urmia and Varamin. Some citizen journalist reports said Iranian security forces tried to break up the demonstrations with tear gas and by beating and arresting protesters. But, there were no credible reports about how many Iranians were hurt and detained by the authorities. Protesters also targeted a religious school in Karaj province near Tehran.
Iranians protested over new U.S. sanctions after 5 November while they used social media to vent anger at what they see as the corruption and extravagance of a privileged few.
The December protests coincided with the annual rally commemorating the 9 Dey rally, 4,000 people attended to support the government.
On 3 January, thousands of counter protesters marched in pro-government rallies which were broadcast on national television, with many holding government-distributed placards and some people chanting slogans in support of Khamenei and against alleged US involvement in the unrest. According to the Washington Post, the rallies appeared like "state-organized gatherings", while the Revolutionary Guards-affiliated Fars News Agency described them as "the revolutionary outburst of Iranian people against lawbreakers".
"Staged" pro-government rallies continued in the following days in several Iranian cities.
Pro-government rally in Qom, 3 January 2018
Pro-government rally in Hamedan, 3 January 2018
Pro-government rally in Ahvaz, 3 January 2018
In the first four days of protests, 12 protesters were killed in clashes with security forces. On 1 January, state media reported the death of a security force member in Tehran, after he was shot with a hunting rifle. As of 2 January, a total of 21 protesters have been killed. State television reported that six were killed following a failed raid on a police station. Included among the dead are five people in Qahderijan and six in Tuyserkan.
On 9 January 2018, The Guardian and Amnesty reported that 3 detainees had died while in custody in Tehran's Evin Prison. Amnesty reported a further two detainees having died in custody in Arak and Dezfoul respectively. Iranian judiciary officials confirmed the Arak death and one Evin death, and said that the deaths were suicides. The local prosecutor in Arak told the Mizan news agency that video footage, which was not released, showed the dead protester stabbing himself with a knife.
Many Iranians, including a number of lawmakers, have called into question the declaration by Iranian authorities that two deaths in custody were "suicides" and that another death was a "terrorist" who died in clashes with security forces. According to ISNA, a group of lawmakers called for an investigation into these deaths, saying relatives and eyewitnesses had questioned the official line.
According to French newspaper Le Monde, 25 people at all died during these demonstrations.
According to Fox News, hundreds of protesters, including family members of detainees, protested outside of Evin Prison demanding information on their loved ones who according to the protesters were being tortured inside. The US White House described reports of torture and death in prison as "disturbing".
Damage to public property
Damage to public property during January 2018 protests in Tehran.
On 30 December 2017, Tasnim News Agency reported that fifty protesters damaged BRT stations and broke the handrails in Ferdowsi Square, Tehran. According to the report of the Tehran mayor, Mohammad Ali Najafi, the damage to the public properties in Tehran "was not that serious" and only some of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stations and a number of garbage cans were burned.
In Dorud, according to Mehr News Agency, on 31 December 2017 protesters attacked the staff and damaged the fire trucks. In another incident, also in Dorud, two people died when a hijacked fire truck collided with a car, according to the state media. The Washington Post reported that in some cases protesters had attacked police stations and government buildings. The Islamic Republic News Agency said that weapons and military uniforms among protesters were taken into custody by Iranian security guards.
Reports by independent media organizations in Iran was restricted. However, Iran's state media covered Rouhani's comments about the protests which said "people have the right to criticize" but the authorities would not tolerate antisocial behavior and that criticism is "different from violence and destroying public properties".
In some regions, Iran's internet service providers, which are either directly owned by or closely tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which reports directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran, blocked internet access in several cities as protests continued.
Previously, several satellite networks in Iran were jammed, and internet and telephone in some areas were cut.VPNs, which had offered a backdoor to the internet, were also turned off.
According to OpenDNS's BGP Stream, on 1 January 2018 Iran's internet traffic dropped by nearly 50%. Meanwhile, the number of Iranians making use of TOR has increased significantly during the protests.
Telegram messenger played a major role in spreading the news about the protests and served as the primary platform to unify the protesters. On 30 December, the Iranian government requested the closing of a Telegram channel called "Amad News" (AMAD standing for Agaahi, awareness, Mobaareze, combat & Democracy) operated by Roohollah Zam which called for use of handmade explosives against the security forces. The request was accepted by Telegram since it also violated their terms of service and policies, and its CEO Pavel Durov received criticism for complying with the request. The channel was reinstated on the next day with a different title (Sedaye Mardom, lit. Voice of People) after the admin who published the post calling for violence was dismissed. On 31 December, the Iranian government blocked access to Telegram after it had refused to ban another channel. Telegram CEO Pavel Durov tweeted that "Iranian authorities are blocking access to Telegram for the majority of Iranians after our public refusal to shut down telegram.me/sedaiemardom and other peacefully protesting channels."
The government lifted restrictions on Telegram on 13 January 2018. but again applied permanent restrictions after late April 2018.
By 14 January, over 440 protesters who were arrested during the Tehran riots had been released, according to Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi.
On 19 February, Iranian MP, Mohammad Kazemi claimed that a lower court in Malayer had sentenced a fifteen-year-old boy to five years in prison for pulling down the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran in a city square during the protests.
Conservative Iranian politician and economist Ahmad Tavakkoli blamed the protests on economic conditions experienced by the poor, for which he blamed the Rouhani administration, the policies of International Monetary Fund, and problems experienced by depositors due to non-regulation of financial institutions.Sadegh Zibakalam, a reformist Iranian academic and pundit, blamed the protests on the lost hopes of young educated unemployed Iranians, who he said felt betrayed given the Rouhani administration's earlier promises of change. He also opined that use of monarchist slogans was only the youths' way of expressing their anger at the establishment, not an indication of real support for the Pahlavis; he said he could understand the grievances of the protestors but considered them counterproductive.
Iranian author Majid Mohammadi posited three causes for the protests: government corruption, economic hardships, and religious authoritarianism. In his opinion, religious authoritarianism was the most salient target of the protests since protesters had come to believe that the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist was determined to preserve the status-quo and not susceptible to reform.
American journalist and political commentator Bret Stephens wrote that "real democracies don't live in fear of their own people", referring to the crackdown on protesters, and the Internet. He said that one of the reasons the protesters called for Khamenei to step down was frustration over his control of a financial organisation called "Setad" that was worth at least $95 billion in 2013 (according to a report from Reuters).
New York Times columnist and commentator on Iranian politics Roger Cohen, argued that "Trump Is Right, This Time, About Iran", writing that even if Trump's support of protestors "sounds hollow", he is right to tweet that the "wealth of Iran is being looted" by a "brutal and corrupt Iranian regime." Whereas Philip Gordon, senior fellow in US foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in the same newspaper that the best thing the President could do to support Iranians was "Be quiet and do nothing", arguing that if "Mr Trump blows up the deal and reimposes sanctions, he will not be doing the opposition a favor but instead giving Iranians a reason to rally to - rather than work against - the government they might otherwise despise."
According to Scott Waldman, climate change may have helped spark the protests as Iran has been suffering from a cycle of severe droughts from the 1990s, suffers from dust storms, and mismanaged water resources. The rising temperatures may be an underlying cause for economic difficulties that led to the protests.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, suggested that Iranian June protests were "orchestrated" from outside the country. He said: "those protests are not happening spontaneously. They are happening because of many of our people in Albania [which hosts an MeK compound] and many of our people here and throughout out the world."
Khamenei blamed the enemies of the Islamic Republic for the unrest, saying, "In the events of the past few days, the enemies of Iran are deploying every means at their disposal including money, arms and political and intelligence support to coordinate making troubles for the Islamic establishment".
In early 2018, Rouhani phoned French president Emmanuel Macron to ask him to act against the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (People's Mujahedin of Iran), an exiled Iranian opposition group based in Paris, and accused them of fomenting the recent unrest.
Rouhani stated that Iranian people have an inalienable right to express their criticism about their country's problems, adding that protests should not be expressed in a manner that makes people feel their lives and the revolution have been threatened. He asked security forces to avoid the use of violence "as they did so far". In reference to US President Trump's expression of support for the protestors he said, "this man in the US who pretends to have sympathy for our people today should keep in mind that he was the one who called the Iranian nation terrorists months ago. This man who is against Iranians wholeheartedly has no right to feel sympathy for the people of Iran."
Iranian foreign ministry's spokesman, Bahram Qassemi, responded to Trump's tweets saying "the Iranian people do not tolerate the opportunistic and hypocritical slogans of US officials", and "the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran establishes democratic structures for legal protection of the civil rights of the people and the possibility of pursuing these demands within the framework of the law is fully possible".
Former Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hamid Reza Asefi, said Saudi Arabia is seeking to exploit and misuse of what he termed "civil rallies and freedom of expression" and claimed that Saudi regime is trying to incite chaos in Iran for their own political ends. He said Iranian people and the government would never let the Saudi government or any other country to take advantage of the protests and even interfere in Iran's domestic issues. He further said the protests are not being held against the government but against economic problems.
United States PresidentDonald Trump posted a series of comments on his Twitter account at the end of December, including saying "Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime's corruption & its squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian govt should respect their people's rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! #IranProtest".
Nikki Haley, the current American ambassador to the United Nations, criticized the Iranian government's response to the protests and expressed support for the protestors on 2 January, saying "This is the precise picture of a long oppressed people rising up against their dictators."
Rex Tillerson said in a 5 January interview, "We are supportive of the Iranian people achieving their aspirations for a better quality of life, for greater freedom. We believe they deserve that, but it will be up to the Iranian people to manage that peaceful transition. We support that."
Russia – Foreign MinisterSergey Lavrov stated that the mass unrest in Iran was an internal affair of the nation and hoped that the crisis would evolve without any bloodshed and violence. He also emphasized that any foreign interference in internal affairs of Iran that may destabilize the situation was unacceptable.
Turkey – Foreign MinisterMevlüt Çavuşoğlu said "We believe it is necessary to avoid violence and not succumb to provocations", concerning the reports of people dying and vandalization of public buildings in Iran. He also hoped that foreign interventions would be avoided.Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Turkey, condemned the US and Israel for the alleged interference in the internal affairs of Iran.
Israel – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the protesters as "heroic" in their "noble quest for freedom". He added, "I heard today Iran's President [Hassan] Rouhani's claim that Israel is behind the protests in Iran. It's not only false. It's laughable. And unlike Rouhani, I will not insult the Iranian people. They deserve better."
France – French president Emmanuel Macron criticised America and its Middle Eastern allies for loudly supporting the protesters, on January 3 saying that "The official line pursued by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are our allies in many ways, is almost one that would lead us to war."
Security Council meeting
On Friday 5 January 2018, following a request by Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., an emergency meeting was held at the UN Security Council about the violations of the human rights of the Iranian protesters. According to Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, videos posted on social media platforms showed protesters being beaten, and government buildings, banks and religious centres burning. Over 1000 protesters had been arrested. Nikki Haley stated the events that happened during the previous week in Iran needed the attention of the world.
Although the US overcame Russian attempts to block a UN security council discussion of the Iranian protests, it lost European support to act against Iran. While the UK, France and Germany agreed with the US on protection of protesters' rights, they used the debate to reject American efforts to undermine the nuclear deal with Iran. French representative François Delattre said that the event was not a threat to international peace and security and said "It is up to the Iranians, and to the Iranians alone, to pursue the path of peaceful dialogue".China, Russia and some other nations considered the protests as internal issue which did not relate to the security council.
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