Iran's supreme leader blasted the US, Europe and Israel on Thursday as he accused the West of waging a “war” against the country via the weeks of mass uprisings that have been met with a violent crackdown from authorities.
The comments came as rights groups said an 18-year-old in the north-western city of Sanandaj had become the latest teenager to be killed by security forces.
The last six weeks of anti-government demonstrations across the country were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini after she was detained by Iran's morality police for allegedly violating the government-imposed dress code.
Witnesses say she was beaten while in custody and collapsed at a police station, before she was transferred to a hospital and died days later.
Government security forces have been accused of widespread abuses in the continuing crackdown on protesters. The Norway-based group Iran Human Rights says 176 people have been killed so far in the crackdown.
They said another 101 people have lost their lives in a distinct protest wave in Zahedan in the south-eastern Sistan-Balochistan province.
The Kurdish rights organisation Hengaw said that Momen Zandkarimi was killed by direct fire from security forces at a series of protests on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, authorities ordered an investigation after a video showing officers savagely beating a protester was shared widely online.
Footage that appeared late on Tuesday on social media, shot at night on a mobile phone purportedly in a district of Tehran, showed a squad of around a dozen policemen in an alley kicking and beating a man with their batons.
The man initially tries to cover his head with his hands, before the sound of a gunshot is heard and he is run over by a police motorbike.
“This shocking video sent from Tehran is another horrific reminder that the cruelty of Iran's security forces knows no bounds,” Amnesty International said, adding that police appeared to have a “free rein” to use violence.
Iran's police force later said it would “investigate the exact time and place of the incident and identify the offenders”.
“The police absolutely do not approve of violent and unconventional behaviour and will deal with the offenders according to the rules,” added the statement, published by state news agency IRNA.
Meanwhile, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has only periodically commented on the protests, accused western powers of meddling in Iranian affairs.
“The events over the past few weeks weren’t simple street riots. The enemy started a hybrid war. The US, Israel, some sly, vicious European powers, and certain groups used whatever they had to do this,” he said in English.
He said that he had no issue with the youth taking part in protests, which he said were out of “excitement, emotion and some negligence in understanding”, but that “the main directors” have then used plots to co-opt this.
“The West teaches how to cause destruction, make Molotov cocktails and make handmade bombs in their media.”
On Thursday, 40 prominent Iranian human rights lawyers publicly criticised the country's clerical rulers, saying they will fall because protesters across the country are no longer afraid of violent crackdowns.
“The government is still drowning in illusions and believes it can repress, arrest and kill to silence,” the lawyers, some inside the country and some outside, said in a statement sent to Reuters.
“But the flood of people will ultimately remove a government because the divine will side with the people. The voice of the people is the voice of God.”
Those inside the country risk arrest with their comments. But the statement is the latest example of how an increasing number of Iranians are no longer paralysed by fear of the state which has kept them in line for decades.
Saeid Dehghan, who has represented many people with dual citizenship jailed in Iran, was among the lawyers who challenged the government in the statement on Thursday.
Another is Giti Pourfazel, who was one of 14 women activists to sign an open letter in 2019 calling for peaceful regime change in Iran and urging Mr Khamenei to resign.
Following the publication of that letter, she and other signatories were arrested on August 19, 2019. She was released last year.
The father of a protester who was killed was arrested and released on Thursday.
Kumar Daroftateh, 16, was shot at close range at a demonstration in the city of Piranshahr and died in hospital on Sunday night, according to Hengaw News.