Nobel laureate Ebadi urges Iranians to engage in civil disobedience


DUBAI: Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi has urged the people of Iran to engage in civil disobedience and press on with nationwide protests that are posing the boldest challenge to its leaders since pro-reform unrest in 2009.

The pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat quoted Iran’s most famous human rights lawyer as saying Iranians should stay on the street and that the constitution gives them the right to protest.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have deployed forces to three provinces to put down anti-government unrest after six days of protests that have rattled the clerical leadership and killed 22 people.

Ebadi called on Iranians to stop paying water, gas and electricity bills and taxes and to withdraw their money from state banks to exert economic pressure on the government and force it to stop resorting to violence and meet their demands.

“If the government has not listened to you for 38 years your role has come to ignore what the government says to you now,” Asharq Al-Awsat quoted Ebadi as saying in an interview.

Ebadi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, is one of a number of exiled critics of Iran’s leadership.

The unrest has drawn sharply varied responses internationally, with Europeans expressing unease at the delighted reaction by US and Israeli leaders to the display of opposition to Iran’s clerical establishment.

In a sign of official concern about the resilience of the protests, Revolutionary Guards commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari said he had sent forces to Hamadan, Isfahan and Lorestan provinces to tackle “the new sedition”.

Most of the casualties among protesters have occurred in those regions of the sprawling Islamic Republic.

The Revolutionary Guards, the sword and shield of Iran’s Shi‘ite theocracy, were instrumental in suppressing an uprising over alleged election fraud in 2009 in which dozens of mainly middle-class protesters were killed. Khamenei condemned that unrest as “sedition”.

Thousands of Iranians took part in pro-government rallies in several cities on Wednesday morning in a state-sponsored show of force aimed at countering the outpouring of dissent.

State television broadcast live footage of rallies where marchers waved Iranian flags and portraits of Khamenei, Iran’s paramount leader since 1989.

The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, played down the protests as economic discontent, saying they were not rooted in the political issues that spurred huge numbers to demonstrate in 2009 and would end soon.

He described them as “nothing to worry about”.

CHRI press release

The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said in a Jan 2 that the Iranian government and state security forces should immediately end their violent crackdown on the nationwide protests that have so far led to the deaths of at least 22 people.

“The people of Iran who are peacefully protesting are not the ‘enemy.’ Khamenei’s dismissal of the unrest as the work of ‘foreign enemies’ is a boilerplate response that ignores legitimate domestic grievances,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI’s executive director.

“The rapid spread of the unrest shows just how combustible conditions have become,” added Ghaemi, “and the potential for further bloodshed is extremely worrisome.”

CHRI urges the international community to forcefully call upon the Iranian government to guarantee the security of the protestors and their right to peaceful protest.

Casualties and arrests during the first six days protest

As details emerged about the number of casualties and arrests that occurred during the first six days of the anti-government demonstrations that began in Iran on December 28, 2017, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei pointed a finger at foreign “enemies.”

According to several official sources, at least 22 people have been killed thus far. Officials have avoided blaming security forces for the deaths, however, anti-riot police and the Basij volunteer militia force have been instructed to quell the protests, which is released CHRI on Wednesday.

Deaths have been reported in several provinces: one in the city of Khomeini Shahr, Isfahan Province; six in Qahderijan, Isfahan Province; three in Shahin Shahr, Isfahan Province; six in Tuyserkan, Hamadan Province; two in Izeh, Khuzestan Province; and four in Doroud, Lorestan Province.

A member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was also reportedly killed by a protestor with a hunting gun near the city of Najafabad, Isfahan Province, on January 1. 

On December 30, four young protesters—two of whom later died—were injured during protests in Doroud, according to Habibollah Khojasteh, the deputy governor of Lorestan Province in charge of political and security affairs. He denied that police or security forces had shot the protestors.

A father and son also died in Doroud on December 30 after a fire truck, set on fire by demonstrators, crashed into the roof of their car after being pushed off a highway bridge, according to the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) service.

Official accounts have varied about the number of deaths in Tuyserkan. On January 1, IRIB reported six protesters had died but the deputy governor of Hamadan Province for political and security affairs, Saeid Shahrokhi, claimed only three deaths had occurred. 

Official sources also reported that six protesters died after they allegedly tried to take over a police station in Qahderijan in Isfahan Province on January 1. No further details have been reported.

IRIB also aired a report about the death of 15-year-old Armin Sadeghi from a bullet wound in Khomeini Shahr on January 1. 

In a tweet sent out the next day, Education Minister Mohammad Bathaei expressed sorrow for the deaths of Armin and another student, only identified as “Shayan,” and condemned the nationwide protests as “blind, violent riots.”

Reports on social media that two protesters had been killed in Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province, and another in Kermanshah, Kermanshah Province, remain unconfirmed.

Meanwhile, the number of arrests reported by official sources between December 28, 2017, and January 1, 2018, has exceeded 1,000. The actual number is likely much higher as many arrests have gone unreported.

According to the reports, there have been 450 arrests in Tehran, Tehran Province; 138 in Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi Province; 40 in Ardabil, Ardabil Province; more than 100 in Isfahan, Isfahan Province; 50 in Kashan, Isfahan Province; more than 100 in Arak, Central Province; and 20 in Karaj, Alborz Province. 

The University Trade Unions’ Council of Iran (UTUCI) also announced the arrests of several student activists at Tehran University and at two other universities in the capital, Allameh Tabataba’i University and Sharif University.

The names confirmed so far by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) include: 

Tehran University: Leila Hassanzadeh, Sina Rabiei, Mohsen Haghshenas, Mikaeil Gholirad, Pedram Pazireh, Mohammad Mohammadian, Ali Mozaffari, Mehdi Vahabi-Sani, Sohein Movahedan, Arash Avari, Danial Iman, Amir-Hossein Elmtalab, Majid Akbari, Mohsen Torabi, Kasra Nouri, Aref Fathi, Mohsen Mir-Hosseini and Mohammad Javaheri.

Allameh Tabataba’i University: Sama Derakhshani, Faezeh Abdipour, Majid Mosafer, Mohammad Khani, Siavash Amjadi, Mohsen Shahsavan and Sina Ghaffari.

Sharif University of Technology: Mohammad Sharifi Moghaddam.

Officials claim “Enemies” are fomenting the protests

Iran’s Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri pointed at the American and Israeli intelligence agencies as the root cause of the protests and threatened to end them with force.

“The enemies are spending the dollars they received from Saudi Arabia in order to bring chaos to the country and get revenge for their past defeats,” said Montazeri on January 2. 

“Those who commit crimes, destroy property and harm the people will undoubtedly be dealt with firmly by the judicial and security agencies,” he added.

Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, the head of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, warned of heavy punishments for detained protesters.

“With each additional day, the riots increase the crime and punishment of those who are arrested. They will no longer be considered protesters seeking their rights but individuals who want to harm the foundations of the state,” he said on January 2.

The senior judge also accused some of the detainees of leading the protests according to the orders of “foreign intelligence agencies” and said they could be sentenced to death for “fighting against God.”