Iranian President Ebrahim Raishi has not expressed regret over how his government handled widespread protests in the country last year, even as the anniversary of the protests in response to the death of Mahsa Amini approaches.
“Those who committed terrorism, who killed people, who attacked the police and the security forces, who had destroyed the country, of course we did not spare them,” Raisi told NBC News’ Lester Holt last week. his first interview with a Western news organization since Amini’s controversial police death last year.
The Iranian leader’s comments come as the anniversary approaches of widespread protests that rocked Iran for about six months last year, with NBC News reporting that authorities in the country have already begun cracking down on activists who might try to reignite the issue. Authorities in Iran reportedly arrested at least a dozen women’s rights activists last month, and Raisi warned in the interview that those who attempt to sow more instability in the country will pay a “big price.”
According to a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom last week, Iranian authorities had also stepped up efforts to arrest religious leaders in an apparent attempt to quell any possible resurgence of protests.
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“Iran’s arrests of religious leaders, particularly the re-arrests of Baha’i leaders, are of grave concern,” USCIRF Commissioner Eric Uland said in a statement at the time. “The Biden administration should lead further multilateral sanctions efforts to hold Iran’s leaders accountable for these despicable and inexcusable violations of religious freedom. It should also support a United Nations Security Council resolution to refer the matter of Iran to the International Criminal Court.”
A spokesman for the White House National Security Council told Fox News Digital that Iran has continued to show “disregard for human rights” while “killing Iranians, including children, and detaining and abusing others. That’s why the people of Iran are protesting.” .
“The United States is leading multilateral efforts to support the free flow of information to the people of Iran, hold the perpetrators of these human rights abuses accountable, and strengthen condemnation of the regime’s brutal violence at the forefront of the international community,” said representative. “Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, the European Union and EU members have joined in sanctioning Iranian officials and entities for involvement in the regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protests, violence against women and censorship.”
But Raisi insisted in his interview with NBC News that the country was ready to listen to “genuine protesters” but warned against what he described as foreign efforts to destabilize Iran.
“Those who intend to abuse the name of Mrs. Amini, under the guise of being an agent of foreigners to create this instability in the country, we know what would happen to them. And they know that by jeopardizing the safety of the people and (the ) security of society will create great costs,” the Iranian leader said.
The one-year anniversary of Animi’s death in police custody, which sparked the biggest challenge to the Iranian regime’s rule since it was founded in 1979, passed over the weekend with little upheaval. Last year at this time, protesters demanded rights for women and dramatic changes in Iran’s leadership and laws. Iranian authorities led a brutal crackdown on the protests, with human rights groups estimating that the country’s security forces had killed more than 500 people in addition to arresting tens of thousands of protesters.
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Raisi insisted that security forces worked to deal peacefully with what he considered legitimate protesters, but claimed that Western countries had helped fuel some protests aimed at attacking the Iranian government.
“It was a hybrid war and a cognitive war. It was a political war. It was an economic war, a media war and a psychological war against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Raisi said. “They didn’t care about Mrs. Amini.
Raisi echoed a similar sentiment during his speech Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly, saying that “last year was the year of the victory of the people of Iran” against “certain Western nations and their intelligence agencies” that he claimed had “made a grave .wrong” and underestimated “the power of the Iranian people since the Islamic Revolution is a victory under the leadership of Imam Khomeini.”
“Iran’s enemies by various and continuous and uninterrupted conspiracies have tried to impose their will on our people,” he said. “These policies have been defeated by the Iranian people. And the Iranian people have been victorious time and time again.”
The Iranian leader went on to claim that the country’s people have faced “significant waves of media and psychological warfare” against them over the past year, while rallying against the US, which he said “today owns the biggest women’s prison” in the world as she portrayed as a “defender of women’s rights”.
The protests led to a widespread movement across Iran to strip women of the head coverings that had been imposed in public since the beginning of the current regime, with some women still flouting those rules a year later.
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However, Raisi argued that “most of the Iranian women today observe the hijab” and continue to “observe Islamic principles”.
Raisi again accused the US and other Western countries of trying to “politicize the issue”, including calls for more pressure on Iran to change its dress code.
“I think they have been defeated in this area, and they will be defeated in the future,” Raisi said.
Meanwhile, the NSC spokesman said the US would continue to support Iranian rights.
“We will continue our support for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Iranians and will continue to take action to support the people of Iran in their efforts to determine their future,” the spokesman said.