Iranians are being silenced, it is time to stand up for them

Protests were supposed to resume after calls to take to the streets in honour of the 1,500 demonstrators killed at the hands of the regime in less than two weeks

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 16, 2019 Iranian protesters gather around a burning car during a demonstration against an increase in gasoline prices in the capital Tehran, on November 16, 2019. Iran's supreme leader has agreed that people killed in nationwide unrest last month who had no role in fomenting it should be treated as "martyrs" with their families compensated. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was responding to a report on the protests made by Iran's Supreme National Security Council, his official website said on December 4, 2019. He ordered that its recommendations "be implemented as soon as possible". Demonstrations erupted in Iran on November 15 against a surprise hike in petrol prices by as much as 200 percent.
 / AFP / -

Iran entered an internet blackout yesterday as authorities sought to quash expected protests. Authorities deployed a large number of security forces on the streets in addition to the blackout, making it impossible for protesters to be heard. But the voices of Iranians must not be forgotten.

Protests were supposed to resume after calls to take to the streets in honour of the 1,500 demonstrators killed at the hands of the regime in less than two weeks last month. Iran’s protesters have simple demands, to live in dignity and enjoy more freedoms yet their cry for change has been met with live bullets and cruel detention in what has become the country’s bloodiest crackdown in 40 years.

But it seems that the worst is yet to come. Since Wednesday night, the Iranian regime has started cutting off internet in certain parts of the country and initiated a smear campaign against protesters, as part of a strategy to discredit young Iranians demanding their rights.

On November 15, protests erupted across the country, initially against a 50 per cent hike in the price of petrol. The Iranian economy is reeling under increased US sanctions, reinstated last year after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the flawed nuclear deal. Tired of being shunned by the world and living in economic misery even as their country holds a wealth of oil and gas, the demands of Iranians quickly turned political. People are asking for regime change, and have burned pictures of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and destroyed a statue of the Islamic Republic’s late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Instead of putting in place reforms, or at least finding a compromise to appease protesters, the Iranian regime has brutally and methodically repressed its own people amid international indifference. In addition to shutting off the internet for several weeks, the regime has attacked journalists reporting on their atrocities from abroad, including staff from BBC Persia, harassing and detaining their families back home. Authorities have blamed the media and an American conspiracy for sparking the protests. The Iranian regime is spreading these lies on social media in an attempt to demonise protesters and spin the narrative in their favour. This month Mr Khamenei himself posted a video on Twitter account, where he refers to protesters as “rioters” who are part of an enemy army. But all evidence points to state repression, with video footage of Iranian security forces shooting at unarmed demonstrators available online.

Not only has the Iranian regime blatantly disregarded popular anger and discontent, it has in fact acted in defiance of people’s demands. This week Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with a delegation representing Yemen’s Houthi rebels, an armed militia that has led an insurgency against the country’s internationally recognised government, sparking a civil war. This is a slap in the face of protesters, who asked for their government to stop funding armed groups abroad and focus on their own needs instead.

The brave people of Iran are refusing to take this daily humiliation any longer

The Iranian regime has even gone as far as to detain the parents of 27-year-old Pouya Bakhtiari, killed in his prime as he was taking part in demonstrations last month, after they refused to call off a commemoration ceremony for the 40th day after his passing. The government has proved it had little respect not only for the lives of its citizens, but for the sorrow of their grieving families, who have been denied the right to mourn their loved ones in peace.

But the brave people of Iran are refusing to take this daily humiliation any longer. Similarly to what happened in neighbouring Iraq, the nationwide uprising took root in low-income neighbourhoods and cities, the traditional strongholds of a regime that claims to support the underprivileged. The people of Iran have awoken and they are standing up to an oppressive and corrupt state. We can only hope their voices will be heard, and that their legitimate demands will be taken seriously before it is too late.