Iran’s president accused the United States on Thursday of pursuing a “failed policy of destabilization” against his country, as Iranian protesters continued to call for the overthrow of its rulers despite a violent and widespread crackdown.
President Ebrahim Raisi has repeatedly dismissed the unrest sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody as a bogus Western plot, despite providing no evidence. His latest remarks came after protests erupted across Iran on Wednesday, with videos showing security forces allegedly firing on demonstrators and using violence to quell the dissent.
The demonstrations, in which girls and women of all ages have removed their mandatory headscarves, or hijabs, have become one of Iran’s most serious challenges to theocracy since the country’s 2009 Green Movement. Raisi, a hardline protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has compared the protesters to “flies” and attempted to minimize the unrest.
“The Iranian nation has invalidated the American military option and, as they have admitted, brought the policy of sanctions and maximum pressure to a humiliating failure,” Raisi said at a conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Thursday. According to a transcript of his remarks, “now, following America’s failure in militarization and sanctions, Washington and its allies have resorted to the failed policy of destabilization.”
Raisi did not address the protests, which took place in at least 19 cities on Wednesday.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, gathering information about the protests remains difficult due to internet restrictions and the arrests of at least 40 journalists in the country.
The Iranian government insists Mahsa Amini, 22, was not mistreated, but her family claims she was beaten after being detained for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
It is unknown how many people have been killed or arrested as a result of the protests.
Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based organization, estimated Wednesday that at least 201 people had been killed. This includes an estimated 90 people killed by security forces in Zahedan, eastern Iran, during protests against a police officer accused of rape in a separate case. The Zahedan violence was described by Iranian authorities as involving unnamed separatists, but no details or evidence were provided.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was not focusing on possible negotiations with Iran over its shattered nuclear deal in the midst of the protests. Those talks fell through in the months leading up to Amini’s death on Sept. 16.
“Right now, our focus…is on the extraordinary bravery and courage that the Iranian people are demonstrating through peaceful demonstrations,” Price said. “And right now, our focus is on shining a light on what they’re doing and supporting them in any way we can.”
Meanwhile, an Iranian American serving a 10-year sentence on internationally criticized spying charges was returned to Tehran’s Evin prison, according to his lawyer. Siamak Namazi was released from prison after his 85-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, was released and allowed to travel to Oman and then to the United Arab Emirates for medical treatment.
“Iran’s refusal to renew Siamak’s furlough is heartbreaking, but ultimately unsurprising,” said lawyer Jared Genser. “Iran’s use of Baquer’s departure and Siamak’s temporary release to portray itself as acting in good faith, only to immediately and needlessly re-arrest him, is a telling display of the hostages’ precarious situation.”