TEHRAN: The head of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards warned protesters that Saturday would be their last day of taking to the streets, in a sign that security forces may intensify their fierce crackdown on unrest sweeping the country.
Iran has been gripped by protests since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police last month, posing one of the boldest challenges to the clerical leadership since the 1979 revolution.
“Do not come to the streets! Today is the last day of the riots,” Guards commander Hossein Salami said in some of the toughest language used in the crisis, which Iran’s clerical leadership blames on its foreign enemies including Israel and the United States.
“This sinister plan, is a plan hatched ... in the White House and the Zionist regime,” Salami said.
Iranians have defied such warnings throughout the popular revolt in which women have played a prominent role. There were more reports of fresh bloodshed on Saturday.
Human rights group Hengaw reported security forces shooting students at a girl’s school in the city of Saqez. In another post it said security forces opened fire on students at Kurdistan University of Medical Science, in the Kurdistan provincial capital of Sanandaj.
Several students were injured, one of them shot in the head, Hengaw said.
Reuters could not verify this report.
The widely feared Revolutionary Guards, who report directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have not been deployed since demonstrations began last month. They are an elite force with a track record of crushing dissent.
On Friday, video footage on social media showed protesters calling for the death of Khamenei and the Basij militia, which has played a major role in efforts to quell demonstrations.
The Intelligence Ministry and the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guards have accused spy agencies from the United States, Britain and Israel of having orchestrated the unrest to destabilize the Islamic Republic.
Salami, who was speaking at a funeral of victims killed in an attack this week claimed by Daesh, reiterated that message in a direct address to the protesters.
“Don’t sell your honor to America and don’t slap the security forces who are defending you in the face,” he said.
The warning by Salami suggests Khamenei could unleash them in the face of relentless demonstrations now focused on toppling the regime.
The activist HRANA news agency posted a video which it said showed protests at a university holding hands in a large circle and chanting: “If we don’t unite, we will be killed one by one.”
HRANA said 272 protesters had been killed in the unrest as of Friday including 39 minors. Some 34 members of the security force were also killed. Nearly 14,000 people have been arrested in protests in 129 towns and cities and some 115 universities, it said.
A hard-line Revolutionary Court began the trials of some of the 315 protesters charged so far in Tehran, at least five of whom are accused of capital offenses.
The United States will next week put the United Nations spotlight on the Iran protests and look for ways to promote credible, independent investigations into Iranian human rights abuses.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Friday urged the Iranian authorities to address the “legitimate grievances of the population, including with respect to women’s rights” and said security forces must avoid “all unnecessary or disproportionate use of force” against peaceful protesters.