‘Who’s the dictator?’ asks Iran’s Raisi as protests continue

Tehran, Iran – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has again denounced the United States amid ongoing anti-government protests in his country.

The president visited Tehran University on Wednesday morning, where he gave a speech to mark Student Day, reiterating that there was a distinction between protests and “riots”, a word the authorities regularly use to describe the unrest in the country, those nearly three months.

“The Americans are out for destruction and want a destroyed Iran instead of a strong Iran,” he said. “They want to become Syria and Afghanistan here, but they made a mistake in their calculations and the well-educated Iranian men and women will not allow it.”

Raisi was referring to a visit he made last week to the protest-protesting province of Kurdistan, where cameras captured him being welcomed by a local shop owner at a chocolates marketplace.

A video later widely circulated on social media shows the man apologizing for greeting the president.

“You saw a man offering me chocolates. What they did to that poor man!” said Raisi.

“You talk about the issue of dictatorship. Who is the Dictator? The one that imposes so many sanctions on this country,” he added, referring to the US, which has imposed harsh sanctions since 2018 after pulling out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2015.

The president’s visit came on the third and final day of nationwide protests and strikes staged anonymously online.

Videos of sporadic protests have emerged from Tehran and several other cities in recent days amid ongoing internet restrictions.

Raisi said on Wednesday the restrictions are in response to “disruptions and insecurity caused by enemies” and changes will be made when “safe conditions” are restored.

Meanwhile, many videos of closed stores in cities across the country have been published online, which have been refuted by many videos released by state-affiliated media outlets showing stores open.

Authorities have repeatedly claimed that “anti-revolutionary” elements are forcing shopkeepers to close their businesses under threat of physical violence. The president also made this claim during his college speech.

Many shops, including some owned by football legend Ali Daei, have been closed by authorities over participation in the strikes.

Other senior officials, including judiciary chief Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Tehran mayor Alireza Zakani, visited several universities on Tuesday.

Zakani’s visit to Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology was perhaps the most controversial and confrontational, as he was heavily criticized by students who called him “corrupt”.

When a student said “we want to make a revolution but you won’t let it”, Zakani replied mockingly, “that’s child’s play, if you want to talk about revolution you rub your throat well so that it doesn’t get stuck”.

Protests in the country began shortly after the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman who was arrested by vice squads for allegedly breaking Iran’s mandatory dress code.

A senior judiciary official said last week that the morality police had been suspended, but there has been no confirmation from police authorities and no indication that laws requiring mandatory hijab will be changed.

Iran has said 200 people have been killed in the unrest, which is lower than the figure of more than 400 cited by some foreign-based rights groups, who say Iranian security forces killed demonstrators.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian claimed on Tuesday during a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina that “police in Iran have not shot anyone and no one has been killed as a result of shooting or confrontation with police or security forces”.

However, the sister of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei condemned the crackdown on protesters on Wednesday, according to a letter from her son.

Badri Hosseini Khamenei also said the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards should “lay down their arms… and join the people”.

“I think it is now appropriate to declare that I am against my brother’s actions and I express my condolences to all the mothers who mourn the crimes of the Islamic Republic, from the time of [former Supreme Leader Ruhollah] Khomeini to the current era of the despotic caliphate of Ali Khamenei,” said Badri Khamenei, who still lives in Iran, in the letter posted on her son’s Twitter account, based in France.

‘dictated by the CIA’

In addition to the US, top Iranian officials continue to accuse other Western countries of being behind the unrest in Iran.

In an interview published Wednesday with the state-run IRNA, intelligence minister Esmaeil Khatib had only harsh words for European leaders.

Speaking of French President Emmanuel Macron, Khatib said: “It is no longer necessary for the US president to direct him because a corrupt, low-ranking CIA intelligence source dictates what to say and what positions to take”.

He also criticized German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for his comments in support of the protests and against the Islamic Republic, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for tweeting about a false claim that Iran could soon execute 15,000 people arrested during the protests.

While the figure of 15,000 was incorrect, Amnesty International warned earlier this month that at least 28 people could be executed in Iran in connection with the protests. They said that “the authorities are using the death penalty as an instrument of political repression to end the popular uprising”.

On Tuesday, five people were sentenced to death and 11 others – including three minors – received long prison terms for allegedly killing a member of the Basij paramilitary force during unrest in the city of Karaj last month.

Their sentences are provisional and can be appealed, the judiciary said. However, the judiciary chief Mohseni-Ejei had said earlier this week that “some” of the previous death sentences handed down for “corruption on earth” and “waging war against God” in connection with the protests have been upheld by the Supreme Court and “soon to be implemented”.

Iran on Sunday executed four people and imposed jail terms on three others accused of collaborating with Israeli intelligence.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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