DUBAI (Reuters) – President Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday hailed the Islamic Republic of Iran as a guarantor of rights and freedoms, defending the ruling regime amid a crackdown on anti-government protests that the United Nations says have claimed more than 300 lives.
Meanwhile, the country’s top security body said 200 people, including members of the security forces, had died in the unrest, a figure far below the number given by the international organization and rights groups.
The protests, now in their third month, were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mohsa Amini in the custody of the morality police who enforce strict mandatory veiling rules.
The demonstrations turned into a popular revolt by angry Iranians from all walks of life, posing one of the most daring challenges to the clerical leadership since the 1979 revolution.
Meanwhile, a video clip appeared on social media showing the authorities demolishing the home of the family of Elnaz Rekabi, a climber who participated in an international competition without a headscarf in October. Rakabi later did so inadvertently, but it is widely assumed that she expressed support for the protests. Read more
On Saturday, state media quoted the head of the judiciary in Zanjan province, northwest of the country, as saying that the verdict to demolish the villa was issued four months ago because the family did not obtain a building permit.
The demonstrators, unfazed by the brutal crackdown, raised slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and repeatedly demanded an end to the Islamic government.
Videos on social media showed renewed protests late Saturday night in some parts of the capital, Tehran, including the eastern Haft Houz district where demonstrators could be heard chanting: “Killer Khamenei must be executed.” Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.
The authorities blame the insurgency on foreign enemies, including the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
“Iran has the most progressive constitution in the world,” Raisi said in a speech to parliamentarians, quoting an unnamed African lawyer he said he met several years ago because it combines “high ideals with democracy.”
He affirmed that “the constitution guarantees (the existence of) the Islamic system,” adding that it “guarantees basic rights and legitimate freedoms.”
The judiciary’s Mizan news agency quoted the Interior Ministry’s State Security Council as saying that 200 people had died in the recent “riots”.
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards, was quoted as saying on Monday that 300 people, including members of the security forces, had been killed in the latest unrest.
More than 300 people have been killed in the protests, including more than 40 children, said Javed Rehman, the UN-appointed independent expert on Iran.
Human rights group HRANA said that as of Friday 469 protesters had been killed, including 64 minors. It added that 61 government security forces were also killed. As many as 18,210 protesters are believed to have been arrested.
A prominent Baloch Sunni cleric, Mawlawi Abdul Hamid, has called for an end to the suppression of protests through arrests and killings, and for a referendum on regime change in Iran.
“The people’s protest showed that the politics of the past 43 years have reached a dead end,” he said in late November.
[email protected] Editing by William McLean and Louise Heavens
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