On the fourth day of demonstrations across Iran, President Hassan Rouhani has appealed for protest within limits.
In his first statement since thousands took to the streets in almost Iranian cities last Thursday, Rouhani said on State TV:
It should be clear to everyone that we are people of freedom. According to the constitution and citizens’ rights, people are free to express their criticism and to protest.
However, we need to pay attention to the manner of that criticism and protest. It should be in such a way that it will lead to the improvement of the people and state.
Rouhani’s remarks on Sunday night were a contrast to the Supreme Leader’s denial of dissent in June 2009, days after many hundreds of thousands of Iranians marched in protest over the disputed Presidential election.
So far Ayatollah Khamenei has made no comment on the current rallies, spurred by economic discontent and demands for change both in domestic politics and in Iran’s foreign intervention.
But Rouhani emphasized that there was a line which cannot be crossed: “People have the right to protest, but those demonstrations should not make the public feel concerned about their lives and security.”
And the President offered no concrete measures to address the economic concerns of protesters. There was no reconsideration of the Government budget, criticized for the imposition of new taxes, reduction in subsidies, and decreased investment in infrastructure. He did not speak in detail about the corruption and mismanagement which has fuelled anger, or offer steps to slow the increase in unemployment.
Unsurprisingly, he also did not speak of changes to the Iranian system — including the position of the Supreme Leader, who has been widely challenged in the marches — or of Iran’s interventions in areas such as Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon.
While news of the demonstrations was slowed on Sunday because of the Iranian regime’s disruption of communications, footage eventually testified to more gatherings in many Iranian cities. In some places, security forces tried to disrupt rallies with the use of clubs, and there was a large security presence in the center of Tehran.
Authorities have restricted Internet speed. On Sunday, State TV confirmed the blocking of the message applications Instagram and Telegram, the latter after it refused to shut down channels advocating peaceful protest.
The Interior Minister, Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli, said:
“The events and incidents in recent days have caused concern, unease and unhappiness for our dear people….
[Protesters] are after causing violence and fear. Of course, such behavior will be smashed.