UPDATE 2050 GMT: Tehran is reportedly quiet this evening, in contrast to demonstrations of the last five evenings. Journalist Sadegh Ghorbani writes:
Last night, there were dozens of anti-riot forces at the nearby square, now there are less than 10. Traffic looks normal. I didn't hear anything about protests (even a small one) being held in Tehran tonight. https://t.co/8BcdUdtdao
— Sadegh Ghorbani (@GhorbaniSadegh) January 3, 2018
UPDATE 1530 GMT: The head of the Revolutionary Guards, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, appears to have blamed former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for sparking protests.
In his first intervention since the escalation of marches last Thursday, Jafari claimed demonstrations started “with the invitation of a website tied to an individual who has been speaking about opposing the principles and values of the system these days”.
Ahmadinejad has been in an increasingly bitter dispute with Iran’s judiciary. The former President, who led the government from 2005 to 2013, has repeated his accusations of corruption against the Larijani brothers — judiciary head Sadeq, Speaker of Parliament Ali, and senior judiciary official Mohammad Javad. Ahmadinejad’s former 1st Vice President Hamid Baghaei has been sentenced to 63 years for misuse of State funds and senior advisor Ali Akbar Javanfekr has been given a six-month term.
Observers have said that hardliners spurred dmeonstrations in Iran’s second city Mashhad, only for other groups to take over the rallies with their economic and political demands. Some regime outlets have written that Ahmadinejad’s camp has been active as advisors to Ebrahim Raisi, former President candidate and head of Iran’s wealthiest religious foundation in Mashhad.
Jafari criticized “officials” who “lost control of cyberspace”. He insisted that protests had slowed after security established control and vowed harsh punishment against those arrested.
The Guards commander also maintained that many arrested protesters have been trained by the “terrorists” of the Mujahedin-e Khalq organization and that the “ringleaders of sedition” were quickly captured.
UPDATE 1445 GMT: Former long-time political prisoner Heshmat Tabarzadi sends a message to the regime, “You are worse than the Shah. You want to kill everyone to rule? We are not afraid”:
— Farnaz Fassihi (@farnazfassihi) January 3, 2018
Tabarzadi, a leader of the Democratic Front of Iran, has been imprisoned on several occasions. He was seied in December 2009 and sentenced in October 2010 to nine years in jail and 74 lashes, a term that was reduced to eight years on appeal. He was released in June 2015 but rearrested in May 2015.
UPDATE 1245 GMT: Higher Education and Science Minister Mansour Gholami has insisted that universities have had nothing to do with the protests.
Trying to separate any students from ongoing demonstrations, Gholami told them on Tuesday, “The rioters who were trying to enter through fences were stopped by students of Tehran University.”
Gholami said no student has been arrested although some are in “temporary detention”.
Activists have named 17 students who are still imprisoned. Four are members of Tehran University’s Student Guild Council, reportedly detained after meeting the head of the university and requesting his assistance to free students who had been imprisoned.
UPDATE 1230 GMT: Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, a hardliner, has called for the block of messaging application Telegram to be maintained, saying it is a “threat against [religious] sanctities” and “more importantly a threat against the Iranian establishment”.
Telegram and Instagram were temporarily suspended last weekend as the regime hoped to disrupt communications and limit protests.
Telecommunications Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi said on State TV:
I had mail exchanges with the head of Telegram and I told him that the continuation of Telegram’s activities is conditioned on the suppression of terrorist content.
The organs of power welcome criticism on social media… but in the current climate, in particular on Telegram, there is propaganda for violent and terrorist actions.
UPDATE 0845 GMT: The regime is trying to display its success over the protests with counter-demonstrations throughout the country.
State TV is showing shots of crowds in Ahvaz, Kermanshah, Bushehr, Abadan, Gorgan, and Qom. Media outlets say several other cities will hold rallies on Thursday, with Tehran’s gathering after Friday prayers.
Iranian TV channels are airing live footage of pro-establishment rallies across the country. The demonstrations aim to counter the ongoing protests against the government. pic.twitter.com/nX3YI1wDBZ
— BBC Monitoring (@BBCMonitoring) January 3, 2018
The regime used the same approach in late December 2009 as it sought to quell ongoing marches after the disputed Presidential election. However, marches last Saturday — ironically, on the eighth anniversary of the 2009 event — were far smaller than the regime desired, and were soon overtaken by news of protests expanding across Iran.
In possible diplomatic fallout from a week of protests across Iran, the Rouhani Government has clashed with France, accusing it of support of terrorists.
President Hassan Rouhani spoke by phone with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, but — at least publicly — the two sides had far different versions of the conversation.
Macron’s office said he urged Rouhani to show restraint in dealing with the protests, which have spread across Iran into almost all cities and many towns. Iranian State media said at least 22 people have been killed and hundreds wounded.
Macron expressed concern over casualties and said freedom of speech and protest must be respected.
Iran’s State media ignored Macron’s message. Instead, it headlined a demand from Rouhani that France act immediately against the Paris-based Mujahedin e-Khalq (MKO), which has pursued a campaign — including assassinations and bombings — to overthrow the Islamic Republic since 1980.
“We expect the French government to abide by its legal responsibility towards this terrorist group along the lines of battling terrorism and violence,” Rouhani said.
While acknowledging a right to protest, the Rouhani Government has tried to shift focus onto a supposed foreign instigation of a “minority” which it says is pursuing violence. It is also asserting that the Iranian nation will rally around an “opportunity” to address concerns about the economy, mismanagement, and corruption.
However, the approach is threatening further strain on relations with European states, whom Rouhani had hoped would spur investment and trade for Iran’s economic recovery. One of the Government’s initial deals after implementation of the July 2015 nuclear deal was with France for 118 Airbus passenger jets. Last summer, it signed a memorandum with French energy giant Total for $4.8 billion for development of the South Pars gas field, and there are initiatives with French automobile manufacturers to spur Iran’s production.
However, the Airbus has stalled except for the symbolic delivery of a few of its smaller planes, and Total says it may have to suspend the South Pars deal because of US sanctions.
Meanwhile, the political situation worsened this autumn when Macron — during a sudden visit to Iran’s rival Saudi Arabia — said that a negotiated agreement must be reached for limits on Iran’s ballistic missile testing and development, which Tehran says is outside the nuclear deal.
Iranian leaders responded angrily to Macron’s statement, saying that Tehran would not enter into talks to restrict its “defensive capacity”.
In a sign of the deterioration amid the protests, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s planned trip to Tehran later this week has been postponed.
EU and Germany Add Concern
On Wednesday night, the European Union’s 28 members added pressure on Tehran with their first statement about the protests, citing
“the increase of violence and the unacceptable loss of human lives”.
The EU emphasized the “core issue” of human rights to assert, “Peaceful demonstration and freedom of expression are fundamental rights that apply to every country, and Iran is no exception.”
However, it also carefully avoided any exclusive blame on the regime by implicitly also addressing protesters, “In the spirit of frankness and respect that is at the basis of our relationship, we expect all concerned to refrain from violence and the right of expression to be guaranteed.”
Germany said on Wednesday that it is following developments with concern.
“The federal government considers it legitimate when people courageously protest their economic and political woes on the streets as is happening in Iran at the moment and they have our respect,” said government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer.
She urged Iranian authorities to start dialogue with the protesters and to respond proportionately to demonstrators who engage in violence.