RFL/RE – Iran’s “Big Mouth Basiji” has never met a pro-government event he didn’t like. And in the face of the biggest challenge to the regime in years, Tehran’s omnipresent cheerleader has been using whatever means possible to shout out his criticism of ongoing antigovernment protests.
Hamid Reza Ahmadabadi has been a fixture of Friday Prayers and large, state-organized, gatherings in Iran for years, gaining fame and his moniker for boisterously leading the charge in calling for an end to the Islamic republic’s adversaries.
By his own admission, the 48-year-old father of two said in a New York Timesprofile in 2015 that he chants “Death To America” even in his dreams.
In recent years, the establishment’s loyal foot soldier has expanded his reach, registering to run in Iran’s 2017 presidential election and using popular social-media platforms like the messaging app Telegram to voice his crude version of the official line.
When Iran’s theocratic regime came under criticism during recent protests, with everyday citizens taking to the streets around the country to protest everything from economic conditions to the repressive policies of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ahmadabadi’s mouth has kept running.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Radio Farda he proudly mentions taking part in a pro-government demonstration in Tehran after Friday Prayers on January 5. Those demonstrations were part of a wave of pro-government rallies in Tehran and other key cities that were staged to counter the sometimes violent nationwide protests that resulted in more than 20 deaths and the arrest of over 1,000 people.
Ahmadabadi insists everyone has a right to protest in what he calls a “democratic” Iran. However, he is adamant in describing many of the participants of the protests as foreign “rioters.”
“They came from abroad to provoke chaos in Iran,” he claims, echoing Tehran’s unsubstantiated allegation that foreign powers, monarchists, or members of exile groups were fomenting the unrest in an effort to destabilize the Islamic republic. He then issues a threat: “We would break the neck of anyone who insults the Islamic republic and, most importantly, the supreme leader.”
In discussing the deaths of protesters during clashes with police and security forces, Ahmadabadi is dismissive of the veracity of the reports, despite them being supported by official sources.
“These are all lies, these are all fabricated,” he says, speaking by telephone from Tehran.
He is equally dismissive of reports of arrests of students.
“They were merely summoned by the authorities,” Ahmadabadi insists, adding that only “rioters” , and not students, were detained, in contradiction to state media reports.
Again echoing the line of the authorities, Ahmadabadi accuses “foreign media and intelligence services” of trying to undermine Iran’s security and stability.
When asked about claims by opposition activists that he took part in the government crackdown on antigovernment protests following the disputed presidential election in 2009, Ahmadabadi declines to answer.
‘Plenty Of Jobs’
As for the issues that prompted the initial protests in Mashhad on December 28, unemployment and rising prices of staples like eggs and chicken, he says that “there are plenty of jobs” in the country, while blaming a “poultry disease” for the high cost of eggs, an apparent allusion to an outbreak of bird flu that reportedly diminished the chicken population.
He insists that consumer goods are cheaper in Iran compared to the rest of the world.
Iran’s economy has been severely affected by economic stagnation due, in part, to several years of economic sanctions imposed over its nuclear program. The country has suffered from high inflation for decades, reaching 31 percent in 2013, according to official statistics.
Inflation has since decreased, but remains high, with the World Bank predicting it will remain at below 12 percent over the next three years.
Ahmadabadi is unwavering in his belief that all is well on the home front, however. “When our doctors and engineers emigrate to foreign countries, do they immediately get hired as doctors and engineers? No,” he says. “They work in restaurants there.”
As for his own career, Ahmadabadi says he is a lawyer by profession, but works in “service jobs” and home nursing.
Written by Farangis Najibullah based on an interview conducted by RFE/RL Radio Farda correspondent Hooman Askary