The Iranian regime was once again surprised by the outbreak of protests, only a few days after millions of Iranians attended the funeral and memorial ceremonies of Qasem Soleimani, the Quds Force Commander, who was assassinated (January 3, 2020) in Baghdad by the United States.
The Iranian regime’s leaders emphasized during the Soleimani memorial ceremonies that the mass participation constituted a “re-alliance” of citizens within the Islamic Republic and an agreement to support the regime through the resistance.
But, according to a letter by Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s successor as the commander of the Quds Force, “Barely any days have passed since the Iranian authorities find themselves once again facing a new wave of protests that erupted on January 11, 2020.”1
These latest protests began over the regime’s lies over the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in which 147 Iranians, most of them young graduates of Iran’s leading universities, met their deaths. Fifty-seven of the victims were citizens of Canada, many of the academic staff of some of the Canada’s best universities who immigrated to or studied in Canada.
President Hassan Rouhani’s spokesman claimed that he, along with Khamenei and the leaders of the regime, were not aware of Iran shooting down the Ukrainian plane until two days after the tragedy. In his first public address about the incident on January 14, 2020, Rouhani called for the establishment of a “special court headed by a supreme court justice as well as the presence of dozens of experts” in Iran to look into the issue. He said it was an “exceptional case” and “the whole world is watching us.” Rouhani tried to avoid taking responsibility for the incident, saying that the tragedy occurred “not only because one man pressed the firing button at the plane in the name of Tehran, near an important international airport, but there are other involved parties who have been involved in this mistake, and there is a need to talk transparently about the whole issue in front of the Iranian people.”2
The Entekhab news website was angered that none of the regime’s officials resigned after the Guards’ Air Force accepted on January 11, 2020, full responsibility for downing the aircraft as a result of “human error” of one of the Guards’ air defense personnel. The site called on General Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, to resign because according to the site, he apparently prevented the transfer of the necessary information about the downing of the plane to Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani and only updated them two days later. But Shamkhani not only did not resign but immediately filed a complaint with the police against the news editor, demanding the site be closed.3
In the meantime, protests continue in Tehran and other cities over the regime’s falsehoods over the plane crash. Contrary to the protests of two months ago, in which the regime forces killed in the first three days about 1,500 of the protesters, this time the forces were instructed to show maximum restraint against the angry protesters to avoid a new embarrassment to the regime. However, according to reports, protesters on Azadi [“Freedom”] Street in Tehran were shot with real bullets, on January 12, 2020.4 At the same time, police forces have widened the scope of arrests in the cities where there are protests. The BBC in Persian on January 14, 2020, reported dozens of detainees, especially young people, had been arrested the night before in Tehran, Amol, Babol, Gaveshan, Shiraz, Isfahan, and more.
Tehran Police Chief Brigadier General Hossein Rahimi vigorously denied that his troops shot at protesters.5 However, according to a BBC article in Persian, social media footage indicates that militiamen in civilian clothing were firing at protesters in various locations in Tehran. The armed men are probably from civilian-recruited militias operating under the auspices of the Revolutionary Guards.
Abdolrahim Mousavi, Commander-in-Chief of the Iranian Army, said at an Iranian General Assembly meeting on January 14, 2020, that the army also regrets the downing of the civilian aircraft, saying, “In general, state security guards are sadder than any other citizen,” but this tragedy happened as a result of human error and naiveté. The commander emphasized that “Iran’s enemies again show enthusiasm to take advantage of these events and do everything possible to damage the regime and the stability and security of the state.”
Ebrahim Raisi, current Chief Justice of Iran, who is positioned to be the next leader after Ali Khamenei, said on January 13, 2020, that the regime understands the grief and anger of the citizens, but it will not allow these protests to continue. According to him, various officials who want to get rid of the regime are taking advantage of the feelings of grief and anger that arose right after the plane crashed. He expressed outrage that protesters had ripped or pulled down dozens of photos of Qasem Solemeini, Iran’s “National Hero.”
In the meantime, the presence of the British ambassador at one of the student demonstrations in central Tehran, on January 11, 2020, prompted police forces to briefly detain him, causing new tensions in Tehran-London relations. The Iranian Foreign Ministry warned on January 14, 2020, “Any new mistakes made by the UK will result in a severe reaction from Iran, and the UK should be ready to bear the consequences.” Conservative officials have held demonstrations in recent days in front of the British embassy in Tehran, furious that the “Old Fox” ambassador had taken part in student protests and demanded his removal. For years, Iranians nicknamed British rule since the Iranian coup in 1953, the “Old Fox” or “the crafty fox plotting schemes.” The newspaper, Kayhan, loyal to the regime’s leader, claimed that in the short period the British ambassador was detained for identification by the Tehran police, he “wet” his pants twice and embarrassed himself.
The Bold Response from an Ayatollah’s Daughter
In a brave step, Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, the daughter of the late influential Ayatollah Akbar Rafsanjani and a women’s rights activist, called on January 12, 2020, for Ayatollah Khamenei to resign to save Iran from the sure collapse that is already happening. In a speech aired on BBC in Persian, Faezeh Rafsanjani emphasized that Iran is already in the advanced stages of disintegration, and all internal and external policies of the regime have failed. She called on Khamenei to take the example of Michael Gorbachev who, “when he realized that the USSR’s policies were not going anywhere, he himself led the removal of the tyrannical and failed regime.” She delineated the severe conditions currently in Iran and the unbearable situation imposed on tens of millions of Iranians throughout the country. She pointed out that the regime has survived so far solely because of severe repression and the use of weapons against its own civilians. Faezeh Rafsanjani, who has been arrested and imprisoned in the past, also stressed that the millions who participated in Qasem Soleimani’s memorial ceremonies are also disgruntled with the regime.6
Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, who for many years was considered the most important man in the Iranian regime after the Leader, died three years ago under suspicious circumstances. Based on testimony from doctors, his family and many supporters charged that the conservatives in the regime had strangled Rafsanjani while he was swimming in a pool, and those conservatives had acted on “orders from above” (alluding to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei).
In recent days, dozens of artists, filmmakers, actors, singers, and intellectuals in Iran have canceled their performances in the coming weeks to signal their sympathy with the protests and demonstrations in response to the regime’s lies and continued oppression. Massoud Kimias, a prominent and famous film director, is a leader in these protest among the artists. The police also arrested on January 13, 2020, Rakhshan Bani-E’temad, another well-known director, who called on nationalists and citizens to gather in the squares of all the cities, in memory of the plane’s victims. She was released after being warned to cancel her protests.
In addition, several newsreaders on the Iranian Broadcasting Authority’s television channels resigned in protest over the lies they were told to broadcast about the plane crash. Conservative presenters fiercely attacked their colleagues, accusing them of “playing for the enemy.” A conservative supporter of the Revolutionary Guards even called for all disgruntled Iranians to leave Iran forever, leaving the country to those loyal to the Islamic Republic.
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