by: Kate Norman, BFP Staff Writer
As tensions between Iran and the United States simmer, the Islamic Republic continues proclaiming its goals to wipe Israel off the map and punish the US for standing with the Jewish state against Iranian aggression. The friction culminated in clashes in December and January that led to multiple Iranian strikes on American targets in Iraq and a US strike that eliminated the regime’s top terror chief. Images flooded the media showing scores of Iranians streaming through the streets to mourn Qassam Soleimani, the late head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force—Tehran’s tool to reach outside its borders and spread terror across the Middle East.
The anti-Western hostility emanating from the Islamic Republic does not necessarily represent the Iranian people, however. In fact, Iran’s accidental downing of a passenger plane in January that killed all 176 people on board led to widespread anti-regime protests. Though Tehran partially shut down Internet access to choke the protests, videos leaked of Iranians burning posters idolizing their leaders and shouting slogans like “We don’t want an Islamic regime” and “They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here!”
University students in Tehran were filmed in January purposely walking around instead of over American and Israeli flags placed on the ground, refusing to degrade the democratic nations and shouting “Shame on you!” to the handful of people who did step on the flags. Another video showed students stomping over photographs of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. The director of UN Watch, a United Nations (UN) watchdog group, praised their bravery. “These courageous Iranian students who refuse to trample the U.S. & Israeli flags represent the hope for a better Middle East,” Hillel Neuer wrote on Twitter. “Promote them instead of their oppressors, and maybe Iran-backed wars & terror across the region will end.” The protesters paid a high price for their courage. Footage showed people being dragged through pools of their own blood to safety after being shot by regime forces.
This wasn’t the first time the Iranian people stood against the corrupt ayatollahs (high-ranking Muslim clerics in Iran). Protests broke out in November 2019 when gas prices tripled overnight—but they quickly shifted to the corruption in Tehran. The leadership did not take kindly to opposition, however, and regime forces quickly began a brutal crackdown on protesters. An estimated 1,500 people were killed by bullets or torture after being arrested, according to a Reuters report citing top officials within the regime. Between 7,000 and 12,000 people were arrested.
Iran Human Rights Monitor (HRM) has worked painstakingly to identify those mercilessly silenced by the regime, so far identifying more than 700 of the 1,500 killed in November. The dead include 12-year-old Ali Mousavi, one of the youngest to be shot during the protests; 21-year-old Arsham Ebrahimi, who was shot in the back and buried by his family on a rainy night as four regime agents watched; Halimeh Samiri, a young woman who was tortured to death by the IRGC and whose corpse was dumped outside her father’s home; Mohammad Javad Abedi, who died just two months shy of his 17th birthday and whose body was delivered to his family wrapped in a shroud for immediate burial so they couldn’t see his corpse; 21-year-old Erfan Faeghi, who was shot in the heart and with his last breath told his 12-year-old brother to look after their mother; Golnaz Samsami, who was on her way to work and stopped to help someone who had been hurt and was shot in the head—the list goes on. Most of these people died resisting the tyrannical regime that abused them. Others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
HRM also reported that at least 274 people were executed in Iranian prisons in 2019, including nine juveniles—most likely more, since many executions are carried out in secret. Most were executed for charges of murder and others for drug-related convictions. Many women charged with murder were defending themselves against rape or violence, the watchdog group reported. Prisons in Iran are overcrowded with political dissidents living alongside violent criminals in hellish conditions, Iran Freedom reported. Many of the inmates are denied critical medical attention. Some of the prisoners include women who are serving years-long sentences for disobeying the regime’s mandate to wear a hijab (head covering for Muslim women).
Masih Alinejad is an Iranian activist who fled to the US and campaigns against the mandatory hijab and other human rights violations in Iran. “Don’t take what you’re seeing at face value,” Alinejad wrote in a Washington Post article responding to images of tens of thousands of Iranians weeping over the remains of former Quds chief Soleimani. She said though many “hard-liners and regime loyalists” mourned the terror chief’s death, Tehran beefed up the numbers by closing down schools and businesses and providing free transportation to pressure more people into attending and paint a picture of a united, grieving, angry Iran that vowed revenge on the US.
But these people have been battered and abused by their own leaders, who rob them of their land and salaries to fund terrorism across the region and then punish and silence anyone who fights back. “I and others have been saying for years that the current repressive conditions in the country are not tenable and that more protests would break out,” Alinejad added. “We were right. And I’ll say it again: Don’t be fooled. Iran will see more anti-regime protests.”
“There are two Irans. The regime and the people,” the founder of an aid group operating across the region wrote. “Don’t confuse them.” Though there is no way to know just how many Iranians oppose the regime, there is enough evidence to show that several do—and the ruthless leaders in Tehran are clearly working hard to silence them.
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