Iran’s top leader praises paramilitaries for cracking down on ‘rioters’


Iran’s Supreme Leader has praised the country’s paramilitary Basij force for its role in the deadly crackdown on anti-regime protesters.

Meeting with Basij personnel in Tehran on Saturday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the popular protest movement as “rioters” and “thugs” backed by foreign forces and praised “innocent” Basij militants for protecting the nation.

The Basij is a wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that has been deployed in the streets as protests have swelled since September.

The protest movement was initially triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the Iranian moral police.

According to Amnesty International, the Basij were ordered to “mercilessly confront” protesters.

“When the Basij faces the enemy on the battlefield, he has always shown himself brave and unafraid of the enemy,” the Supreme Leader said Saturday.

“You have seen in recent events that our innocent and oppressed Basijis have become the target of oppression lest they allow the nation to become the target of rioters, thugs and those on the ground [enemy] payroll, whether knowingly or unknowingly. They gave themselves to liberate others,” Khamenei said.

Khamenei’s words come a day after United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk warned that Iran is mired in a “full-blown human rights crisis” over its crackdown on anti-regime dissidents.

At a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, Turk called for “independent, impartial and transparent investigations” into human rights violations in Iran.

He told the 47-member Council of State in Geneva that security forces reportedly responded to protests with deadly force against unarmed protesters and bystanders who “posed no threat”.

More than 14,000 people, including children, have been arrested in connection with the protests, Turk said. He said at least 21 of them are currently facing the death penalty and six have already been sentenced to death.

Among those arrested are two well-known Iranian actors, Hengameh Ghaziani and Katayoun Riahi, who have been arrested on separate occasions for publicly supporting the nationwide protests, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

The Islamic Republic was swept by a wave of anti-government protests sparked by the death of Amini, who was allegedly not wearing her hijab properly.

Authorities have since launched a deadly crackdown on protesters, using reports of forced arrests and physical abuse against the country’s Kurdish minority. A recent CNN investigation undercover testimony uncovered sexual violence against protesters, including boys, in Iranian detention centers since the unrest began.

According to Turk, the unprecedented national uprising has gripped more than 150 cities and 140 universities in all 31 provinces of Iran.

The violent response by Iranian security forces to protesters has shaken diplomatic ties between Tehran and Western leaders.

The White House on Wednesday imposed its latest round of sanctions on three officials in Iran’s Kurdish region after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was “deeply concerned that Iranian authorities are reportedly escalating violence against protesters.”

During an interview with Indian broadcaster NDTV on Thursday, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani said foreign powers are interfering in Iran’s internal affairs and creating “false narratives”.

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