Cartoon by Paolo Lombardi
Iranians protest for third day over downed airliner amid reports of gunfire by security forces
The Washington Post: Iranians staged protests Monday for the third straight day after Iran's military admitted it shot down a Ukrainian airliner it mistook for a hostile aircraft amid heightened tensions with the United States last week, killing all 176 people onboard.
Videos from Sunday night showed demonstrators fleeing from tear gas and in one case a woman bleeding from the leg — a wound that protesters said was caused by live ammunition.
"Is this the blood of our people?" one demonstrator said as he filmed a pool of blood on the street in Tehran.
In other videos posted on social media, which could not immediately be verified, sounds of gunfire could be heard at protests in Azadi Square in the capital, as well as in the city of Shiraz.
Iranians protest as government admits shooting down airline
The fury at Iran's government marked a stunning turnaround for leaders in Tehran, after a U.S. drone strike killed Iran's Quds Force commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, earlier this month, prompting hundreds of thousands of Iranians to rally in a display of public mourning.
Demonstrators late Sunday were filmed in at least two locations tearing down posters of Soleimani. His death early Jan. 3 prompted Tehran to retaliate against the United States, firing more than a dozen ballistic missiles at Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. troops.
In the hours after the attacks early Wednesday, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 with a surface-to-air missile, a move it blamed on "human error." Listed among the dead were 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, including the crew. Most, if not all, of the Canadians were reported to be of Iranian origin or dual nationals.
In Vali-e Asr Square in Tehran, a large poster depicting Soleimani was replaced with a billboard mourning the victims of the crash.
In a televised statement, Tehran's police chief denied that police shot at protesters and said they are under orders to show restraint.
"Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance," Iranian media quoted Brig. Gen. Hossein Rahimi as saying, the Associated Press reported. "Police did not shoot in the gatherings since broad-mindedness and restraint has been agenda of the police forces of the capital."
Residents reported a heavy security presence in central Tehran Monday, including riot police and uniformed officers. One video showed riot police gathered near Vali-e Asr Square.
“All of Enghelab Street until Azadi Square is full of security forces,” said Sahar, 32, a resident of Tehran. Like other Iranians interviewed for this article, she declined to give her full name for fear of government reprisal.
Iranian security forces have cracked down hard on demonstrations and killed at least 200 protesters during unrest over cuts to fuel subsidies across Iran in November, according to rights groups. The Trump administration has put the death toll from those demonstrations much higher — it says some 1,500 people were killed by security forces.
One of the scenes of a demonstration Saturday night was Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, where people gathered at a vigil for the victims of the plane crash. The university said that 13 of its students and alumni were killed when the plane was shot down.
Security forces “started dragging people away. They took a number of people and put them in cages in police vans,” said 35-year-old Soudabeh, an architect.
“At one point, the protesters freed one of the men who was detained. I saw his face and it was covered in blood — his family carried him away,” she said.
Another video from the same university Monday showed students once again chanting against the cleric-led government.
“They killed our elites and replaced them with clerics!” they shouted.
The civil society group site NetBlocks, which monitors Internet access worldwide, said Monday that it identified a drop in Internet connectivity registered at Sharif University.
“National connectivity remains stable despite sporadic disruptions,” the group said on Twitter.
On Sunday evening, riot police fired tear gas at demonstrators gathered near the Shademaan metro station in Tehran, according to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.
Protesters are calling for accountability in the accidental downing of the flight. Iranian officials initially denied reports that the plane was brought down but later admitted that the Revolutionary Guard, which maintains military bases in the area of the crash, shot it down by mistake.
Officials and state media issued apologies for failing to report accurately on the crash.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency published a searing statement from the Tehran Association of Journalists on Monday decrying the state of media in Iran.
"What endangers this society right now is not only missiles or military attacks but a lack of free media," the association said.
"Hiding the truth and spreading lies traumatized the public," the statement continued. "What happened was a catastrophe for media in Iran."
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Monday that Iran's military should be commended for accepting responsibility for downing the airliner and that the government would emphasize transparency in the investigation going forward.
"What is missing is the voice of the people," students at the Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran, another site of recent protests, said in a statement.
"In the past two months, the regime's dysfunction has been proven — it's a regime that has only one answer to any problem: oppression," the statement said.
“We know that America’s presence in the Middle East has caused chaos and turmoil, and we object to the presence of any invading power,” the statement continued. It added that the U.S. presence in the region “must not turn into an excuse for internal repression.”