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 crackdown on unrest sweeping the country.
Iran has been gripped by protests since the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police, 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.
The widely feared Revolutionary Guards, who report directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have not been deployed since demonstrations began on Sept. 16. They are an elite force with a track record of crushing dissent.
Rights groups have said at least 250 protesters have been killed and thousands arrested across Iran in the protests, which have turned into a popular revolt by furious Iranians from all layers of society.
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 defuse demonstrations.
The Intelligence Ministry and the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guards have accused spy agencies from the U.S., Britain, Israel and Saudi Arabia 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 the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), reiterated that message in a direct address to the protesters.
“Don’t sell your honour to America and don’t slap the security forces who are defending you in the face,” he said.
Reports of fresh bloodshed
Iranians have defied such warnings throughout the popular revolt in which women have played a prominent role. There were more reports of fresh bloodshed and renewed protests on Saturday.
Human rights group Hengaw reported security forces shooting students at a girls’ school in the city of Saqez, Amini’s hometown in northern Iran. 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 the report.
Videos posted on social media by activist groups purported to show protests at a number of universities across the country in cities including Kerman, Mashhad, Qazvin, Ahvaz, Arak, Kermanshah, Yazd and a dozen campuses in the capital, Tehran.
The activist HRANA news agency posted a video that it said showed protesters at a university holding hands in a large circle and chanting: “If we don’t unite, we will be killed one by one.”
HRANA (Human Rights Activists News Agency) 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.