Pro-government protesters in Iran try to change the story.
After Mahsa Amini died, there have been a lot of protests in the last few days, and people who support the government have taken to the streets.
People have been told to get together through announcements and mass text messages.
But since the death of a woman in the custody of Iran’s “morality police” has brought the world’s attention to Iran, the mass gatherings called for in the messages have been to show support for the government, not opposition to it.
The calls were similar to ones made two days ago after Friday prayers, when thousands of people joined in.
The protests are part of an effort by Iran’s government to push back against what they call “norm-breaking” behavior seen during nine days of protests across the country after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman.
Organizers said that copies of the Quran and Iranian flags were burned during the counterprotests, which was a religious sign of support for the theocratic government that came to power in 1979 after an Islamic revolution.
Supporters of the government have also criticized what they see as foreign interference in Iran’s affairs, especially by the United States, which has backed the protests and said earlier this week that it would make an exception to its strict sanctions against Iran to fix the internet problems.
Police and security forces have always given full support to state-organized gatherings, and state television and media give them a lot of attention. Protests against the government, where people often chant slogans against the establishment and its leaders, are not allowed, and security forces break them up.
Sunday’s pro-government rally comes after President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials said they would “deal decisively with those who oppose the security and peace of the country.”
Protests versus ‘riots’
The protests started when Amini had a stroke after being arrested for not following Iran’s dress code for women in Tehran. She was in a coma for a few days before she died.
Authorities said that Amini had not been beaten, and they tried to say that her death was caused by health problems she had before she died, which her family denied.
So far, it is thought that dozens of people have died and thousands have been arrested during the protests, but the authorities, who call the protests “riots,” have not released official numbers.
State TV said on Saturday that at least 41 people have been killed and that “739 rioters, including 60 women, have been arrested” in the northern province of Gilan alone.
Authorities say that some of the people who were killed were members of the police, security, and paramilitary Basij forces. They also say that “infiltrators” from foreign governments and secessionist forces killed some of the other people.
Komala, a left-wing party that wants independence for ethnic Kurds and is seen as a “terrorist” group by Tehran, has been accused of a lot of things by the government.
On Saturday and Sunday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shelled what it said were Komala positions in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region. It said that the group was trying to use the protests to get “armed teams and a lot of weapons” into Iran.
State media say that people from the “terrorist” group ISIL (ISIS), the armed separatist group Komala, and another armed group called the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan have been arrested in several northern and northwestern provinces.
They also said on Saturday that the IRGC stopped a plan to bomb northwestern Tabriz, which is in the province of East Azerbaijan.
Responses online and around the world
Even though many people in Iran are worried about separatist groups, protesters on the streets are showing anger and frustration that hasn’t been seen in years because of how hard security forces are cracking down.
Even though Iran has put the most restrictions on the internet since the protests began in November 2019, videos of the protests are still coming out of cities across the country. The rules include blocking WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Skype. This means that all social media and messaging platforms in Iran are now filtered.
Authorities seem to have limited access to the internet in a more targeted way than they did during previous waves of protests.
In 2019, access to the internet was cut off completely for almost a whole week, making it hard to use even local websites and basic government and banking services. The restrictions in place now are much smarter and don’t affect basic services.
In the past few days, restrictions have been tightened from 4 p.m. to midnight because protests usually start in the late afternoon and go on all night.
Restrictions make it hard to connect to virtual private networks (VPNs) that can help you get around internet blocks when you’re using a mobile phone.
Elon Musk, a tech billionaire, has promised to turn on his Starlink satellite internet constellation, which is run by SpaceX, so that people in Iran can use the internet without any restrictions. This has caused problems, as experts warn that hackers are using malware that looks like Starlink software to trick users.
Outside of Iran, the United Nations, the European Union, and rights groups have asked for independent investigations into the protests and the government’s response. People have also taken to the streets in Australia, Iraq, Germany, Greece, New Zealand, Turkey, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the US to show support for the Iranian protesters.