Al-Monitor – After a week of protests in response to the death of a woman in the custody of Iran’s morality police, authorities are now threatening consequences for those who encourage others to join the ongoing demonstrations.
The head of Iran’s judiciary, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, said today, “The rioters should know, those violators on people’s property, those who have become one voice with the enemy and encourage the youth and brought them to the streets, should know that our enemies have sent their agents to attack our people and their property.” Iranian authorities are referring to protestors as rioters in order to justify the harsh crackdown.
Mohseni-Ejei added that those who encourage the protests will be held responsible for the damages done by the protestors, and those who encouraged the protests will be identified by the security forces. He did not elaborate on what that process would be or what would constitute encouragement. However, the statement is an ominous one — particularly for social media users.
The protests began after the death of Mahsa Amini a week ago. She was apprehended by Iran’s notorious morality police for violating hijab laws. Video footage released by Iranian authorities shows Amini at a waiting facility, but she later died in custody. The protests started at first against the unpopular law mandating that women wear a hijab but quickly morphed to include condemnations of larger issues, including the entire governmental system and its leaders.
These are some of the largest protests Iran has experienced since 2019-2020 when demonstrations erupted over anger at a rise in subsidized fuel prices. Those protests were economic in nature and quickly turned into protests against the government. These protests today appear to include a large spectrum of society and cover many more cities.
It is not clear how much longer the protests will last. The comments by Iran’s judiciary chief are now part of the pattern of officials warning protestors to stay home and saying that they would not be differentiated from armed groups. Iran’s Intelligence Ministry also put out a statement saying that “illegal protests would result in a criminal case.” At this point, all the protests are considered “illegal” and anyone apprehended at the protests will face severe fines, jail time and loss of status at work or university.
The Interior Ministry also issued a statement warning that “riots and destruction do nothing but create fear” among citizens.
In order to slow down the spread of information and videos of protests, Iran has slowed the internet drastically — especially at night. One of the methods mentioned to bypass these attempts to shut down the internet is the use of Starlink, a satellite internet run by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Most experts believe the amount of time it would take to set up a working system inside Iran is a lot longer than many have hoped. Still, Iranian authorities are not taking it lightly. Iran’s internet police have warned that advertisements for Starlink on Telegram and other messaging apps are often financial scams preying on consumers.