Amid riots, Iran’s hardliners direct their anger at France

Hundreds of protesters, including high school students, chanted “Death to France” and accused French President Emmanuel Macron of insulting Iran while urging Paris to stop “animosity” towards Tehran. Police, some of whom appeared carrying pictures of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, kept the protesters away from the embassy building.

Supporters of Iran’s hardline leaders often target their protests and flag burnings against the US and its stars and stripes, but it is rare to target the Tricolor of France.

State television said some clerics held similar protests in the sanctuary city of Qom, the center of religious learning in Iran.

The speaker of the Iranian parliament, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, on Sunday linked the cartoons in the French magazine to what officials have repeatedly alleged is a Western plot to spread “riots” in Iran.

Later that day, President Ebrahim Raisi offered his first reaction to the French cartoons, echoing similar claims. “Resorting to insults under the guise of freedom is a clear indication of their frustration at concluding a plot for chaos and insecurity” in Iran, he said.

Anti-government protests erupted across Iran in September after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been detained by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating its strict Islamic dress code.

The unrest has become one of the most severe challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution that brought it to power. Human rights groups say at least 517 protesters have been killed and more than 19,200 people have been arrested amid a violent crackdown by security forces. The Iranian authorities have not provided an official count of those killed or detained.

On Saturday, authorities executed two men convicted of allegedly killing a paramilitary volunteer at demonstrations.

The hangings on Saturday led to word that four people have been executed since unrest began in September over Amini’s death. All the sentences were handed down in speedy closed-door trials that have received international criticism.

Sunday was also the third anniversary of the shooting down by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards of a Ukrainian passenger plane with two surface-to-air missiles, killing all 176 people on board, a tragedy that sparked an outburst of anger across Iran. Tehran initially denied responsibility for the downing of the plane before admitting to doing so in error amid heightened tensions with the US.

An Iranian court has yet to deliver a verdict three years after the trial of 10 military personnel who have not been publicly identified but are allegedly involved in the downing of the plane.

Families of the victims gathered at the crash site on Sunday for a commemorative ceremony in addition to an official commemoration organized at Tehran’s international airport, which had been the flight’s departure point.

In a separate development on Sunday, a court sentenced Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to five years in prison for “propaganda against the system,” Iranian media reported.

The outspoken and reformist Hashemi had been in prison since late September after she was arrested by security forces for supporting women-led protests opposing the mandatory headscarf, or hijab, under the Islamic Republic.

In 2011, Hashemi was convicted and served five years in prison on similar security charges.

Iranian officials continue to claim that the months-long protests are being fueled by foreign agents, but have offered no evidence.

Following the publication of Charlie Hebdo cartoons mocking Iranian clerical figures, authorities in Tehran on Thursday closed a decades-old French research institute, calling the closure a “first step” in their response.

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