Iranian Government Targets Youth In Recent Protests

Young students are the targets of the Iranian government during the recent anti-government protests, the widest spread civil unrest the country has experienced since 2009. So far, 21 people have been killed in this new wave of protests which started last month, with water cannons and tear gas among the weapons that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has used against demonstrators.

Differently from the Iranian protests of 2009, in which protestors’ main goal was to attain more political freedom, this unrest stems from the poor state of the economy in the country. International sanctions, high inflation, lack of jobs, and increased poverty have all contributed to the wave of rebellion. According to a BBC Persian investigation, 15% of Iranians have become poorer in the last ten years, with many of them unable to afford food due to rising prices. The movement has evolved into anti-government protests in the last few weeks, claiming corruption and negligence within the government.

Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, originally responded to the protests by assuring the world that protestors were “completely free to make criticism and even protests” as long as it did not create “social disorder.” Since then, however, the Iranian government has started using more force against demonstrators. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard recently declared that if the unrest continued, they would come down on protestors with an “iron fist.”

90 students are included in the 1,000 people detained by the government since the protests began last month. These so called “preventative” arrests are historically uncommon in Iran, but 90% of arrests in the past week have been young adults under the age of 25, according to authorities. The Vice President of Tehran University, Majid Sarsangi, told the Iranian Students’ News Agency that “our efforts at the university are aimed at co-operating with the relevant authorities to create the conditions for the return of the detained students to the university and their families in the shortest possible time.” Most of the students were arrested in their homes. This pattern of arrests indicates a fear of the youth among the Iranian government, due to both their success in mobilization and access to social media platforms.

In the strictly monitored media environment of Iran, social media has been a major platform for protestors, especially for those younger in age. As of December 31st, the Iranian government banned two of the most popular social media applications in the country, Instagram and Telegram, claiming that the ban would help “maintain tranquility” in the country. Government-run television broadcasts, contrarily, have been airing videos of pro-government supporters chanting “death to America” and “death to Britain.”

With the new anti-Iran alliance between the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia affecting these new protests, it is hard to predict their future direction. The current political climate in the Middle East suggests that these movements could continue to spread, especially if no change is made. On the other hand, the human rights violations by the Iranian government could also require foreign interference. Regardless, through this new wave of protests the citizens of Iran are demanding both national and international attention.

Victoria McShane