Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has blamed foreign influences for unrest that has spread across the country over the death of a young woman while she was in custody for breaking a rule on the wearing of the Islamic head scarf, or hijab, and warned that security forces had his full backing in quelling any dissent.
In his first public reaction to the widespread protests inside Iran, Khamenei on October 3 attributed the demonstrations to America, Israel, and Iranians abroad, whom he called “traitors.”
The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini “deeply broke my heart,” he said, characterizing it as a “bitter incident.”
Authorities have said Amini died of a heart attack while in custody for “inappropriate attire,” a claim the family and her supporters have vehemently disputed. They say she was in perfect health and that eyewitnesses who saw her arrest last month said she was beaten by security forces.
Amini’s death on September 16 has unleashed a wave of anger over the enforcement of a rule that women must wear a hijab in public, which they say highlights the lack of women’s rights in Iran.
Prior to the demonstrations, unrest had already boiled over several times during a summer of water shortages and poor living conditions that saw labor strife and street protests.
Iranian security have suppressed the latest wave of protests with what eyewitnesses say are heavy-handed tactics.
Khamenei, whose failure to comment on Amini’s death earlier caused speculation about his state of health, signaled the suppression of demonstrations would be ratcheted up if they continue.
U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would place “further costs” on Iran for its violent crackdown against the nationwide protests.
“This week, the United States will be imposing further costs on perpetrators of violence against peaceful protestors,” Biden said in a statement.“We will continue holding Iranian officials accountable and supporting the rights of Iranians to protest freely.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said earlier that the United States is “alarmed and appalled by reports of Iranian security authorities attacking and arresting university students engaged in peaceful protests.”
The spokesperson said in an e-mail to RFE/RL that Iran’s talented students “are the very young people who could be the future of Iran, and they are rightly protesting the death of Mahsa Amini, their government’s treatment of women and girls, and the ongoing violent crackdown on peaceful protestors.”
Early on October 3, classes were suspended and moved online at Iran’s Sharif University, a leading higher-education institution and traditionally a hotbed for dissent, after clashes erupted overnight between students and security forces, local media said.
Videos posted on social media showed demonstrations taking place in several universities across the country on the morning of October 3.
At the Isfahan University of Technology, students protested against the repression of Sharif University students in Tehran and supported public protests while chanting for freedom.
Lawyer Mustafa Nili wrote on his Twitter account on October 3 that the security forces attacked a gathering of lawyers in the southern Iranian province of Fars.
According to Nili, the lawyers had gathered in front of the Fars Province Lawyers’ Association to show solidarity with the protesters, but they were dispersed with tear gas and bullets.
The Iranian Teachers’ Union’s Coordination Council issued a statement asking teachers and students to “show their solidarity and support with all the protesters by striking at school and refusing to go to class” on Monday, October 3.
In a statement sent to RFERL’s Radio Farda, the council has invited the military and police forces to be among the people “so that in the near future they will not be shamed by their conscience and the people’s court.”
At the same time, 12 female political prisoners announced that they will protest at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison in support of the battle for women’s rights.
There have also been reports that a number of players and coaches of the Persepolis football team, who took to the field with black armbands in protest against the arrest of their former captain for supporting the protests, have been summoned for meetings with security agencies.
Iranian media reported on September 29 that Hossein Mahini, the retired captain of Iranian soccer giant Persepolis FC, has been arrested on charges of “encouraging riots and sympathizing with the enemy” after he posted content on social media in support of the protesters.