Students defy Iran protest ultimatum, unrest enters more dangerous phase

  • Protests show no sign of abating amid fierce state warnings
  • University students clash with security forces
  • Journalists are demanding the release of their imprisoned colleagues
  • Rights groups report arrests of activists, students

DUBAI, Oct 30 (Reuters) – Weeks of protests in Iran took a more violent turn on Sunday as students defied an ultimatum from the Revolutionary Guard and were met with tear gas, beatings and gunfire from riot police and militia, media videos showed social.

The clashes at dozens of universities prompted the threat of tougher clashes in the seventh week of demonstrations since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after she was arrested by morality police for clothing deemed inappropriate.

Iranians from all walks of life have been protesting since Amini’s death.

What began as anger over Amini’s death on September 16 has developed into one of the toughest challenges to clerical rulers since the 1979 revolution, with some protesters calling for the death of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The top commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards told the protesters that Saturday would be their last day to take to the streets, the sternest warning yet from the Iranian authorities.

However, videos on social media, which cannot be verified by Reuters, showed clashes between students and riot police and Basij forces on Sunday at universities across Iran.

One video showed a member of the Basij forces firing a gun close to protesting students at a branch of Azad University in Tehran. Gunshots were also heard in a video shared by the rights group HENGAW of protests at Kurdistan University in Sanandaj.

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Videos from universities in some other cities also showed Basij forces opening fire on students.

Across the country, security forces tried to block students inside university buildings, firing tear gas and beating protesters with sticks. The students, who appeared to be unarmed, pushed back, with some chanting “disrespectful Basij get lost” and “Death to Khamenei”.

HISTORY OF CRACKS

Social media reported the arrest of at least a dozen doctors, journalists and artists since Saturday.

Activist news agency HRANA said 283 protesters were killed in Saturday’s unrest, including 44 minors. Around 34 members of the security forces were also killed.

More than 14,000 people have been arrested, including 253 students, in protests in 132 cities and towns, and 122 universities, he said.

The Guard and its affiliated Basij force have crushed dissent in the past. They said on Sunday that “seditionists” were insulting them in universities and on the streets, and warned that they could use more force if the anti-government unrest continued.

“So far, Basijis have shown restraint and they have been patient,” the head of the Revolutionary Guard in Khorasan Junubi province, Brigadier General Mohammadreza Mahdavi, was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

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“But it will go out of our control if the situation continues.”

NEWSPAPERS’ APPEAL

More than 300 Iranian journalists have demanded the release of two colleagues who were jailed for their coverage of Amini in a statement published by the Iranian Etemad and other newspapers on Sunday.

Niloofar Hammedi took a photo of Amini’s parents hugging each other in a hospital in Tehran where their daughter lay in a coma.

The image, which Hamedi posted on Twitter, was the first sign to the world that all was not well with Amini, who had been detained three days earlier by Iran’s morality police for what they considered an inappropriate outfit.

Elaheh Mohammadi covered Amini’s funeral in her Kurdish hometown of Saqez, where the protests began. A joint statement released by Iran’s intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guards intelligence organization on Friday accused Hamedi and Mohammadi of being foreign CIA agents.

The arrests fit an official narrative that Iran’s arch-enemy the United States, Israel and other Western powers and their local agents are behind the unrest and are determined to destabilize the country.

At least 40 journalists have been detained in the past six weeks, according to rights groups, and the number is growing.

Students and women have played a prominent role in the unrest, burning their veils as crowds call for the fall of the Islamic Republic, which came to power in 1979.

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An official said on Sunday that the organization had no plans to back away from compulsory veiling but that it should be “judicious” about enforcement.

“Removing the veil is against our law and this headquarters will not retreat from its position,” Ali Khanmohammadi, spokesman for Iran’s headquarters for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice told the Khabaronline website.

“However, our actions should be wise to avoid giving enemies an excuse to use against us.”

The apparent suggestion of compromise is unlikely to appease the protesters, most of whose demands have moved beyond dress code changes to calls for an end to clerical rule.

In a further apparent attempt to calm the situation, the Speaker of the Senate, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, said that people were right to call for change and that their demands would be met if they distanced themselves from the “criminals” who are going on the streets.

“We consider the protests not only correct and a cause for progress, but we also believe that these social movements will change policies and decisions, provided they are separated from violent people , criminals and separatists,” he said, using terms officers typically use for the protesters.

Written by Michael George; Edited by Nick Macfie, Philippa Fletcher and Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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