The wave of protests and social upheaval that erupted in Iran following 22-year-old Mahsa Amini’s death at the hands of Iran’s morality police, who had detained her for “improperly” wearing her hijab, has not died down.
As the popular revolt continues, Iranian state media is inciting violence against the protesters while the regime tries to recast the protests as a Kurdish separatist plot.
Last Thursday, the regime held the first execution of a detained protester—Mohsen Shekari. A second protester, Majidreza Rahnavard, was publicly executed Monday morning. Dozens more have been convicted on similar charges. Persecution of the protesters has now killed 475 people—among them 65 children—according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency.
On Dec. 4, false reports indicated that the regime had abolished the morality police. In reality, the regime never said it would do so. The story started with a comment by Iranian Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, who was asked about the absence of morality police on the streets.
“The morality police has nothing to do with the judiciary system,” he said, according to ENSAF News and BBC Persian. “Of course, the judiciary system will continue its surveillance of social behaviors across society.”
Montazeri rejected international media reports, saying, “No official authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran has confirmed the closure of the morality police.”
Meanwhile, regime media incited violence against protesters by demonizing them as unpatriotic and seditious. The daily Vatan Emrooz claimed last week that the protesters are an “anti-Iranian” movement that threatens truck drivers and hinders movement in order to hurt the economy.
In another stage in its disinformation campaign, the regime and its affiliated media now attempt to portray the protests as a dangerous ethnic revolt by Iran’s Kurdish minority.
On Dec. 4, Iranian daily Kayhan described the protesters as “secessionists” and “murdering terrorists.” Kayhan’s use of the term “secessionists” is a reference to the Kurdish minority, which is a large presence on Iran’s western border with Iraq.
While protests continue throughout the country, including Tehran, they are especially active in the Kurdish regions. Mahsa Amini herself was of Kurdish descent.
The conservative Vatan Emrooz daily ran an op-ed on Dec. 5 titled, “This is terrorism.” It called on the regime to treat protesters as domestic terrorists.
“Iranian cities have witnessed various terrorist operations rather than rejecting protests and gatherings on the streets,” it said. “In this atmosphere, the testimony of a large number of security forces is also a bloody testament to the blind or targeted terrorist acts of subversives.”
Iran’s security apparatus has killed dozens of Kurdish protesters. The regime even went so far as to attack Kurdish regions of neighboring Iraq in the biggest cross-border strike since the 1990s. Iranian Kurds expressed their dissent by celebrating the recent victory of the U.S. national soccer team over Iran in the World Cup. At least one man was killed by government forces for doing so.
The regime’s persecution of Kurds often includes false accusations of collaboration with the Israeli Mossad. It has claimed that four Kurdish political prisoners who have been detained for four months are “Mossad-related agents.” State media aired “confessions” by the four last Tuesday, which could be a sign of impending executions.
It is clear that the regime wants people to ignore what the protesters are saying: “Death to the dictator,” “woman, life, freedom” and “death to the entire regime.” Instead, the regime wants people to see the protests as one ethnic group’s separatist revolt that undermines the country.
As for the United States, it has officially moved to remove Iran from the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, but Iranian dissidents want the U.S. to be more vocal. In one positive sign, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bipartisan resolution last Thursday in support of the protests.
Congress, it said, “commends the bravery, courage and resolve of the women and men of Iran who are participating in the current protests to defend their fundamental human rights; and risking their safety to speak out against the human rights abuses committed by the Iranian regime.”
At the moment, there is no sign that the regime is planning to stop those abuses, but the protests are nonetheless very much alive.
Ioannis E. Kotoulas (Ph.D. in History, Ph.D. in Geopolitics) is a senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism and an adjunct lecturer in geopolitics at the University of Athens. His latest book is Geopolitics of the War in Ukraine.