Iran’s Supreme Leader Orders Militias to ‘Deal’ With Rioters

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran, on May 8, 2022. (SalamPix/Abaca Press/TNS)

TEHRAN, Iran (Bloomberg News/TNS) — Iran’s supreme leader on Saturday urged a unit of the country’s plainclothes militia to step up action against protesters, in remarks that could escalate a crackdown on monthslong anti-regime unrest.

“Dealing with rioters is one of the most important tasks of the Basij,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a broadcasted speech, referring to a civilian volunteer force known as being one of his most loyal support bases.

Protests erupted in Iran in mid-September and quickly escalated into the fiercest opposition to the Islamic Republic leadership in decades following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody after she was arrested for allegedly violating Islamic dress codes.

Human rights groups say more than 400 people, including tens of children, have been killed in clashes with security forces since the protests began.

Dozens of unverified videos that have since been shared on social media show plainclothes forces engage in beatings and opening fire at protesters, alongside the anti-riot police.

“The field of battle isn’t limited to a handful of rioters in streets, but that’s not to disregard these rioters. Any rioter, any terrorist should be punished,” Khamenei said.

The statements echoed Khamenei’s remarks in 2017, when he urged his supporters to “fire at will,” or act at their own discretion, to safeguard the country’s interests — comments that stoked concerns for unchecked violence against dissenters at the time.

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