Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi said the United States was behind recent nationwide protests triggered by the case of Mahsa Amini.
"We should not allow the enemy to weaken our national unity," Raisi asserted in a televised interview, adding that the final results of a forensic probe into the young woman's death in the custody of the morality police were to be released in the coming days.
Iranian authorities and hardline media have been insisting that Amini died of a heart attack and suffered from background health complications. The argument has been repeatedly rejected by her family, who allege that she suffered a fatal brain injury while in detention.
In nearly two weeks of protests, Iran's riot police and pro-government militia, known as Basij, have opened fire on protesters, killing at least 76, according to a tally by the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights. Iranian authorities imposed severe internet restrictions on Sept 21. The outages, according to Iranian users, have only intensified on a daily basis, with one platform blocked after another.
While the Governor-General of Tehran province, Mohsen Mansouri, told a gathering of loyalists that "the protests have entirely died down," there was no sign that connectivity was to be reinstated soon. Instagram and WhatsApp, which had been among the few social media applications available, are now effectively unreachable. "The disruptions are threatening over 400,000 jobs," declared the E-Commerce Association of Iran in a statement Sept. 29. Communications Minister Issa Zarepour, however, blamed the protesters for "the damage inflicted on online businesses."
Videos and reports of clashes between protesters and riot police in the cities of Sanandaj and Qom were posted online as the protests entered a 14th day. Still, the internet restrictions are believed to have impeded coordination for fresh rallies, making many Iranians resort to other forms of civil disobedience. Strikes, which were earlier called by students and teachers, are currently spreading to more sectors. Staff at Digikala, the Iranian version of Amazon, announced their walkout, joining many employees at Snapp, the equivalent for Uber in Iran. And the Kurdish cities of Oshnavieh and Sardasht, which have seen some of the worst violence in recent days, were in a near-complete shutdown.
Drivers are honking relentlessly, and wall graffiti is spreading. One video showed a Mahsa Amini hashtag sprayed in a central square on a large logo of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Other graffiti mostly targeted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has yet to appear in public to address the unrest.
Celebrities rounded up
The government crackdown has entered a new phase over the past 24 hours. As thousands are estimated to have been sent to detention centers, the latest journalists arrested was Elaheh Mohammadi from the Reformist daily Hammihan, who covered Mahsa's funeral from her hometown, Saghez.
Celebrities, who have issued statements of solidarity online, were also in the crosshairs. Intelligence forces arrested former TV host Mahmoud Shahriari, female songwriter Mona Borzouei and former soccer player Hossein Mahini. Reports also said security forces raided the home of well-known actress Katayoun Riahi but were unable to arrest her, while Mehran Modiri, a popular stand-up comedian, left the country to avoid arrest, according to Tasnim News Agency.
'Flames beneath the ashes'
Earlier, judiciary chief Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei had warned those "who echo the voice of the enemy … are guilty and will face punishment." And reflecting the same line Sept. 29, Kayhan, a hard-line daily linked to Khamenei's office, described the protesters as "mercenaries and lackeys serving America."
However, even in the government-funded media, there were voices of serious precaution. "Officials should not assume that discontent is over," wrote moderate paper Jomhoori-e-Eslami. "It is rather like flames beneath the ashes, which could resurface with the tiniest trigger."
And as those editorials were published, pictures went viral of individual women openly defying hijab in their normal public life in Tehran streets — an unlikely scene before the recent protests, yet a move that could have them arrested any moment by Morality Police, the same way Mahsa Amini was.