TEHRAN: Iranian Protests have reached the ninth consecutive day on Friday amid rising calls for more demonstrations under the slogan “The Friday of Anger for our Martyrs” referring to the 50 protesters who were killed so far by Iranian security forces, according to the opposition.
Al-Arabiya, a pan-Arab news agency, reported that activists called for nationwide protests hours after Friday prayers so as not to clash with pro-regime protests that include students of religious institutions, Revolutionary Guard supporters and the Basij militia.
According to the government, the official number of deaths since the uprising is 22. However, the opposition announced that the toll has reached 50 on Friday.
Further protests are expected to take place after a match in the ‘Tractor Sazi’ stadium in Tabriz, the central province of Azerbaijan.
Asharq Al-Awsat reported that the protestors echoed their voices in the presence of more than 50 thousand people who attended a football match in the stadium.
Local sources in Tabriz told al-Arabiya that the roads leading to the province have been blocked with police checkpoints.
Amid social media calls for anti-regime protests in Tabriz, security forces are inspecting buses and interrogating match goers, local sources added. Pictures are being shared on social media of security forces kicking people out of buses and telling them to go home.
They also said that military barracks have been set up there since Thursday night, and security forces were lined up all along the roads leading to the province, blocking people from going for the match.
Meanwhile, protesters around the country are being arrested. According to the opposition, more than 3,000 people have been arrested, while the regime admitted to arresting only half that number.
In a telephone interview from Tehran, Iranian human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh told Asharq Al-Awsat, “Starting 3 pm till late at night, the main streets of Tehran witnessed fueled moments.”
During the Friday prayer, a leader in Sunni-majority Zahedan, Abdulhamid Mullazahi, criticized authorities for quelling protests and called on officials to pay attention to the demands of the Iranians and their problems.
According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) published in on published on Friday, ‘more than 40 Iranian university students, mostly activists, were arrested between December 30, 2017, and January 4, 2018’.
REF/RL reported that on Friday that the Iranian authorities have made over 1,700 arrests and deployed troops in local shows of force.
Hardline preacher Ahmad Khatami told thousands of worshippers gathered in Tehran on Friday that “when cyberspace was closed down, the sedition was stopped,” adding that Iran nation does not support a social network that has its key in the hands of the US.
Despite the surge of demonstrations across the country, Interior Ministry spokesperson Salman Samani is still refusing to answer journalists’ questions on the situation.
Opposition from influential figures
Hesamodin Ashna, President Hassan al-Rouhani’s adviser, recently criticized the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for saying that the protests were over.
“CNN and other media outlets largely covered the Revolutionary Guard leader’s statements, and this is not in the favor of Iran’s reputation, as it is known that the authority to speak on protests lies with the police and is announced through the interior ministry only, not the Revolutionary Guard which has more serious responsibilities.”
Meanwhile, in their first official reaction to the uprising, the National Trust Party headed by Mehdi Karroubi who has been under house arrest for seven years, blamed the protests on the regime.
“Those in power should know that violent confrontation with demonstrators will have more negative consequences and that problems must be resolved through constructive dialogue between the government and demonstrators. The problem will not be solved by imprisonment, house arrest and violence,” the party said in a statement.
Many Iranian celebrities have also voiced their support of the uprising. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a well-known Iranian film director said in a statement on Thursday, “The violence imposed by Khamenei on the protesting youth through his religious oppression and by both the reformists and the benevolent conservatives is apparent.”
A number of other celebrities including famous singer Googoosh, Dariush Eghbali, Mahnaz Afshar, Taraneh Alidoosti and several others also voiced their support for the anti-regime demonstrations.
Pro-government rallies in Iran
Al Jazeera reported that Rallies in support of Iran’s government have reached the third day, on Saturday.
One of the largest was in the capital, Tehran, where people chanted anti-US slogans, blaming Washington for the unrest.
The protest movement, which never reached the size or momentum of the 2009 demonstrations, appears to have fizzled out – sidelined by the rallies of government supporters.