After weeks of silence, on Monday Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly responded to the ongoing protests in his country, condemning what he described as “rioting” and accusing Israel and the United States of planning the protests.
The unrest, sparked by the death of a young woman while in the custody of Iran’s morality police, has been flaring across the country for three weeks despite Tehran’s efforts to shut them down.
Monday, Iran closed the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran after an hours-long standoff between students and police on Sunday that resulted in hundreds of young people getting arrested.
According to witnesses, Sunday’s turmoil was prompted after anti-government protesters clashed with pro-government students. Police kept hundreds of students on campus while firing rounds of teargas to disperse the demonstrations.
The student association said plainclothes police surrounded the school after nightfall, detaining around 300 students.
The university announced on Monday that only doctoral students would be permitted on campus until further notice.
While speaking to police students in Tehran, Khamenei said the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody left him “deeply heartbroken.” However, Khamenei said the resulting riots were “designed by America and the Zionist regime.”
Mahsa Amini was arrested for violating Iran’s strict Islamic dress code. Her death in custody sparked the protests which have now grown into an open challenge to the regime, with women setting fire to their state-mandated headscarves and chanting “Death to the dictator.”
The demonstrations, which have also been fueled by the country’s ailing economy, political repression, and social constrictions, have moved beyond Tehran into far-flung provinces, prompting Iranian officials to disrupt internet access and block social media apps.
In his remarks on Monday, the Ayatollah condemned the scenes of women ripping off their hijabs and setting fire to mosques, banks, and police cars, calling them “actions that are not normal, that are unnatural.”
Khamenei warned of “harsh prosecution and punishment” for those fomenting unrest to “sabotage the Islamic Republic.”