Allegations of violence have cropped up as protests got under way for a third day in the capital and other cities following the Iranian regime’s startling admission Saturday, January 11, that it launched the missiles that downed Ukraine Airways flight 752, killing all 176 passengers and crew aboard.
Pro-regime gunmen prowling the streets of Tehran have shot at demonstrators protesting the shooting down of a civilian airliner by nervous Iranian military, according to some witnesses.
The destruction of the flight and the deaths of mostly Iranian or dual national Iranian passengers have infuriated Iranians across the political spectrum, many angry about the days of denial and obfuscation by senior military and government officials following the crash.
Many of those killed in the crash were young graduates of Iran’s most elite and prestigious educational institutions, heading back to promising jobs or research slots in the west following winter holidays with relatives. Profound grief rippled across the country.
Video posted on Monday showed students gathering at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology, demanding answers and accountability.
“They killed our elites, and they replaced them with mullahs,” they chanted.
“Resignation is not enough,” one of the protest leaders told The Independent. “We want prosecutions.”
The night before, pandemonium erupted in parts of central Tehran as protesters sought to seize control of iconic Azadi Square, where only a week before mourners had commemorated Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani.
Video posted to the internet and distributed via the Telegram messaging app showed black-helmeted riot police beating protesters with batons near on a commercial street late Sunday.
“Don’t hit her! Don’t hit her!” a woman is heard yelling as a security enforcer in riot gear pummels a young couple.
In another clip, protesters crowd around what appears to be a bleeding protester with splotches of blood on a nearby sidewalk.
Other video showed gun-wielding regime militiamen, likely members of shadowy factions loyal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, wielding assault rifles and scouring the streets in search of protesters. Witnesses said at least two people were shot and in unknown condition, even as the police denied using lethal force.
“The police did not fire shots during yesterday’s and today’s rallies ,” the newspaper Hamshahri, associated with the mayoralty of Tehran, quoted Brig-Gen Hossein Rahimi as saying.
Mr Rahimi claimed police had dealt with protesters “with restraint.” But he made no reference the often masked militiamen who serve as the regime’s shock troops.
Earlier on Sunday, pro-regime voices on television and on campuses warned protesters any violence would be the fault of peaceful protesters rather than the unaccountable pro-regime enforcers that often perpetrate violence.
It was the assassination of Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Iraq, the subsequent Iranian retaliation, and fears of US counter-attack that prompted edgy Revolutionary Guard commanders to mistake the Ukrainie Airways Boeing 737 lumbering out of Tehran’s international airport on a routine flight path for an incoming US missile.
The downing of the jet shattered a rare moment of national unity in Iran, and reignited long-standing grievances that have resulted in on-and-off protests since late 2017.
The disaster has prompted Iran’s only female Olympics medal winner to defect to West, a leading news anchor to resign and apologise for “lying to [Iranians] for 13 years,” and a major newspaper, Entekhab, to call for the resignation of Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.
In response, Iranian authorities appeared poised to crack down. The Council of Guardians, a body of ultra-conservative jurists who vet candidates for national office, announced that it had disqualified 90 sitting reformist lawmakers from running for office in 21 February elections citing “economic corruption, moral corruption, and contradicting the ruling establishment.”
Though they have yet to cut off the internet, as they did during November protests, Iranian censors blocked Entekhab, after it called for Mr Shamkhani’s departure. On the streets, they have deployed thousands of uniformed and plainclothes enforcers. (Source: Independent UK)