DUBAI/PARIS: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday protests over the death of a woman in police custody were planned and not staged by “ordinary Iranians,” in his first comments on unrest that has swept the country since Sept. 17.
In comments reported by state media, Khamenei said the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini “deeply broke my heart,” calling it a “bitter incident.”
But he said “some people had caused insecurity in the streets,” saying there had been planned “riots.”
“This rioting was planned,” he told a cadre of police students in Tehran. “I say clearly that these riots and insecurities were designed by America and the Zionist regime, and their employees.”
He added of the protests: “Such actions are not normal, are unnatural.”
He expressed strong backing for the security forces, saying they had faced injustice during the protests.
Earlier, Iranian students have clashed with security forces at a top Tehran university amid the wave of unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, state media and rights groups said Monday.
Kurdish Iranian Amini, 22, was pronounced dead on Sept. 16, days after she was detained for allegedly breaching rules forcing women to wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes, sparking Iran’s biggest wave of protests in almost three years.
Concern grew over violence at Sharif University of Technology overnight where, local media reported, riot police confronted hundreds of students, using tear gas and paintball and carrying weapons that shoot non-lethal steel pellets.
“Woman, life, liberty,” students shouted, as well as “students prefer death to humiliation,” the Iranian Mehr news agency reported, adding that the country’s science minister later came to speak to the students in an effort to calm the situation.
The Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights posted video apparently showing Iranian police on motorcycles pursuing running students in an underground car park and, in a separate clip, taking away detainees whose heads were covered in black cloth bags.
In other footage, shooting and screaming can be heard as large numbers of people run down a street at night, in footage AFP has not independently verified.
“Security forces have attacked Sharif University in Tehran tonight. Shooting can be heard,” IHR said in a Twitter message Sunday.
In another video clip, a crowd of people can be heard chanting: “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid! We are all together!” IHR said the footage was taken at Shariati metro station in the capital Tehran on Sunday.
The New York-based group Center for Human Rights in Iran said it was “extremely concerned by videos coming out of Sharif University and Tehran today showing violent repression of protests + detainees being hauled away with their heads completely covered in fabric.”
Mehr news agency said that “Sharif University of Technology announced that due to recent events and the need to protect students ... all classes will be held virtually from Monday.”
Since the unrest started on September 16, dozens of protesters have been killed and more than a thousand arrested. Members of the security forces have been among those killed.