January 19, 2023 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1679

Antiregime Protests By Women, Ethnic Minorities, And Students In Iran – Part II: Criticism Of How The Regime Is Suppressing The Protests

January 19, 2023 | By A. Savyon and M. Manzour*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1679

The antiregime protests in Iran have been underway for over four months, and many of those protesting the regime's tyranny are students and other young adults, as well as members of Iran's ethic minorities.

Part II in this series focuses on Iranian citizens' criticism of the regime's brutal enforcement of hijab wear and the segregation of the sexes – the two issues that were at the heart of the protests in their early weeks. However, an addition focus of the protests is the absence of established channels for expressing political opposition – such as opposition political parties – that led people to take to the streets and demonstrate. As the protests continued, the more the regime's brutal measures against the young protesters were exposed, the greater became the public criticism of the regime's violent suppression of the protests. (See also Part I of this series: Antiregime Protests By Women, Ethnic Minorities, And Students In Iran – Part I: The Protestors' 'Woman, Life, Freedom' Chant vs Islamic Regime Claims That The Protests Are Organized By Foreign Countries.)

View MEMRI TV clips of young Iranians protesting against executions of demonstrators below:

Iranians Protest Against Regime's Recent Executions Of Demonstrators: If You Execute, There Will Be An Uprising! December 11, 2022

Iranian Protestors Deface Posters And Statues Of The Late IRGC Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani, Who Was Responsible For Iran's Expansion In The Region, On Third Anniversary Of His Killing; "Death To The Dictator! The Revolution Of 2022 Will Not Falter!"

This report will review protestors' calls for regime change in Iran, and will include relevant MEMRI TV clips.

Calls To Overthrow Supreme Leader Khamenei's Islamic Regime

Sister Of Supreme Leader Khamenei Denounces Him And Regime: "My Brother Does Not Listen To The Voice Of The Iranian People... The Revolutionary Guards And Khamenei's Mercenaries Must Lay Down Their Arms And Join The People – Before It's Too Late"

On December 7, 2022, Mahmoud Moradkhani, the nephew of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, tweeted an open letter by his mother, Khamenei's sister Badri Hosseini Khamenei, whose daughter had been arrested the previous month after calling on the world to sever ties with Tehran. In her letter, Ms. Hosseini expressed her intense opposition to her brother's regime and to its violence against the young protestors, writing: "I oppose my brother's actions, and I call on [Iran's] Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRGC] to lay down their arms and join the people, before it's too late."

Stating that the Iranian regime had brought "nothing but suffering and repression to Iran and the Iranians," she added that her brother is not attentive to the Iranian people and that the crimes of the regime have been ongoing since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. She decried "the suppression of every dissenting voice, the suppression of the most educated and conscientious young people in this land, the harsh punishments, and the huge number of executions." The following is a translation of her letter:

"In the name of God,

"For any mother, losing a child, or being far from a child, is a great sorrow. Many mothers have been bereaved in the past 40 years [since the Islamic Revolution]. I think that it is appropriate to declare now that I oppose my brother's actions, and I express my solidarity with all the mothers who are mourning over the crimes of the Islamic Republic, from the era of [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini to the current era of the 'tyrannical caliphate' of Ali Khamenei. Like all the bereaved  Iranian mothers, I too am sad to be far from my daughter. While they violently arrested my daughter, it is clear that they use even greater violence against other oppressed boys and girls who are subjected to inhuman cruelty. 

"My family's opposition and struggle against this criminal regime began only months after the revolution. The crimes of this regime, the suppression of any dissenting voice, the imprisonment of the most educated and conscientious young people in this land, the harsh punishments, and the huge number of executions started with the very beginning [of this regime].

"From the very beginning, my husband, Ali Tehrani, was against this regime and the theocratic government. He was the voice of the people's desire for freedom, and because of this he suffered all kinds of difficulties. This included imprisonment, twice, during the 1980s, as well as a decade of his old age in prison. 

"Over the last two decades, my daughter Farideh suffered hardship and imprisonment because of her civil and human rights activism, including her support for the political prisoners and their families, and her efforts to stop the unjustified executions. Decades ago, as part of my humanitarian duty, I frequently brought the people's voice to my brother, Ali Khamenei. But when I saw that he was not listening but was continuing in the path of Khomeini, repressing and killing innocent people, I cut ties with him. My concern has always been and always will be for the people, especially for the women of Iran.

"I believe that the Islamic Republic regime of Khomeini and Khamenei has brought Iran and the Iranians nothing but suffering and repression. The Iranian people deserve freedom and prosperity, and their uprising is legitimate and essential for achieving their rights. I hope to soon see the victory of the people and the downfall of this tyranny that controls Iran.

"Ali Khamenei's IRGC and mercenaries must lay down their arms immediately and join the people before it's too late. I am deeply sorry that because of physical illness I am unable to participate in the protest movement as I should have. But in my heart and my soul, I am with the Iranian people.

"My brother does not hear the voice of the people, mistakenly believing that the voice of his mercenaries and greedy [associates] is the voice of the Iranians. He himself is deserving of the disrespectful condemnation that he uses for the oppressed yet courageous people of Iran. May the people's just struggle for freedom and democracy be actualized as soon as possible."[1]

Iranian Dissident Abolfazl Ghadyani: "The Regime Cannot Be Reformed, It Must Go"; Raisi Is A Murderer; It Is Khamenei, Not The Protestors, Who Is Rebelling Against God

Iranian dissident Abolfazl Ghadyani, a political activist who has been imprisoned multiple times, told BBC Persian in an interview that Iran's Islamic regime cannot be reformed and that it must go," and that taking to the streets is the only way to achieve this. The Iranian people, he added, have realized that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the "source" of their problems (a reference to the Supreme Leader's title marja taqlid, "source of emulation," i.e., a jurisprudent qualified to rule) as well as their "greatest enemy." Arguing that the anti-regime protestors in Iran are acting in self-defense, and not, as the regime claims, out of corruption or rebellion against God, he predicted that the regime's attempts to intimidate the protestors will only boost their determination to overthrow the regime. Calling President Raisi a "murderer," Ghadyani added that the Iranian regime had, in 2020, deliberately shot down Ukrainian Airlines flight 752, with many Iranian students on board.

To view the MEMRI TV clip of the interview with Ghadyani, click here or below:

Criticism Of The Regime's Political And Social Oppression

University Lecturer Mahdi Zakarian: "The People Must Have At Their Disposal Legal Means To Raise Their Demands"; "The Government Must Allow Different Opinions In The Country";  "The Fact That People From Different Groups And Sectors Cannot Express Their Views Is A Grave And Fundamental Problem"

In an October 12, 2022 interview with ISNA, political analyst and university lecturer Mahdi Zakarian called on the regime to allow public criticism, saying that because there were no legitimate channels for criticizing the regime, such as a free press and political organization, the only outlet for regime critics was demonstrations, and those had turned violent. He also decried the absence of the parties that were outlawed because of the illegality of expressing views that differ from those of the regime. He said:

"I believe that many in Iran have had the legal paths to expressing their demands closed to them, and that what remains for them is taking to the streets and demonstrating. For this reason, the people must have at their disposal legal means to raise their demands – and this is also enshrined in the [Iranian] constitution.

"In the world of political science and international [relations], and in the area of human rights, there are ways for the people to raise their views for discussion [to the government]. A century ago, the Iranians demanded a constitution, and we have a constitution in this country, and people and officials must act according to it. Other countries' constitutions and standards allow people to express their views via the ballot box, via the [political] parties, via councils, and via nonviolent protest.

"Sadly, protests in Iran are carried out 'with a bad taste,' since according to international standards, as well as local ones, when groups demonstrate, their rival groups need not march or demonstrate at the same time. When students from Sharif University [of Technology in Tehran] came to express their opinion peacefully and demonstrate across the university [campuses, pro-] Basij students who opposed these views held a counterdemonstration. This must not happen, because when you allow two rival groups to march at the same time, only a few meters apart, the result is sure to be unfortunate.      

Political analyst and university lecturer Mahdi Zakarian (image: ISNA, Iran, October 12, 2022)

"When there is no political party and no avenue through which to express the problems and criticism, the result is chaos. A party seeks power through civil expression; it does not demand this through military expression. A party has a platform that is based on the constitution and the law of the land; it presents its demands in theoretical form. People have the option to join or not, but sadly all of [Iran's] parties were destroyed [by being outlawed].

"Citizens seek to be seen and heard, and they must be allowed to march [in protest] peacefully and legally. The government must allow different opinions in the country. The fact that people from different groups and sectors cannot express their views is a grave and fundamental problem. How many times have my comments been censored in the press, on the radio, in the media, and on Iran's national broadcasting service, [even though I am] a professor of human rights and although my statements included no harm or insult to anyone but were merely criticism? This phenomenon has had many irreversible consequences over many years, as we are witnessing today.

"I believe that if people are not allowed to protest in the streets, disaster will ensue, since the people will lose their trust [in the regime].

"The protestors must not be referred to as 'ones who are deceived' or 'rioters' [as the regime calls them]. All the students [protesting at the universities of] Sharif, Beheshti, and Tehran are not 'deceived.' They have demands, and they want to make them heard. The citizens must not be deprived of legal means of protest. Legal ways of demonstrating must not be closed off to the citizens. The procedures must be changed. Persuasion must be used with the citizens, and they must be given reasonable answers to their demands and protests.

"The protests will end when the citizens' questions are met with reasonable answers. [Judiciary head Gholamhossein] Mohseni-Ejei himself announced that anyone with a question or criticism is welcome to come talk to him. My question for Mr. Ejei is: Why don't you go to the street to listen to what the people are saying? Come to my classroom to see what the students are saying and want. Is he really unaware of what the citizens want and what their demands are? Today, the citizens have very harsh criticism of the political and cultural situation, and especially of the economic situation. People are in a very bad life situation, and are receiving no response to their criticism."[2]

Majlis Member Pezeshkian: Religious Belief Cannot Be Imposed By Force

On September 19, 2022, Majlis member and former health minister Masoud Pezeshkian blamed the regime for Jina Mahsa Amini's death and stated that its actions are making Iranians turn against Islam. Adding that the government cannot force religious belief upon the people, he called on the regime to reexamine its conduct.

To view Pezeshkian's statements on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

Sunni Spiritual Leader Abdolhamid: "Where Criticism Is Prevented, Tyranny Is Created"

Molavi Abdolhamid, the Sunni spiritual leader in the city of Zahedan, demanded that the regime take responsibility for the killing of protestors. He said that where criticism is prevented, tyranny is created, and that it is important to follow the truth, even if it is expressed by the Americans or the Israelis.

To view Abdolhamid's statements on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

Asr-e Iran: People's "'Way Of Life' Is Not A Law Set By The Majlis And It Is Not A [Military] Base To Be Defended By Military Force"

The October 25, 2022 editorial of the online daily Asr-e Iran harshly criticized the pro-regime students at Tehran's Sharif University of Technology who prevented a mixed group of male and female students from entering the dining hall in defiance of its gender segregation. The following are excerpts:

"Look at this picture, which apparently will become part of Iran's contemporary history. Students at Sharif University sought to abolish the gender segregation in the [university's] cafeteria, so male and female students tried to enter the [self-service section] together. Opposing this, a small group of ideological students backed by forces outside the university gathered behind the windows and barricaded [them] with tables in order to keep them out. Ultimately, the [mixed group] of students managed to enter the self-service [section]...

The photo: Pro-regime students at Sharif University block entry to a mixed group of students (Source:Asr-e Iran, October 25, 2022)

"This incident is remarkable, because what is normal and routine all over the world, even in Islamic countries, is an 'issue' – even a 'political action – in Iran.

"Unfortunately, it can be said that the issue of students eating together in a cafeteria has become an issue in Iran, and acceptance or rejection of this is now a 'political action'!

"This shows that what is happening at the heart of the recent protests and counterprotests is a serious and profound issue of 'way of life.' Young Iranians do not want to live exactly as their mothers and fathers did, and the point is that many members of the 'older generation' stand alongside their children and give them the right to choose their only chance to live.

"[People's] way of life is not a law set by the Majlis, and it not a [military] base to be defended by military force. People's way of life is how the citizens want to live every moment, and no government can stand against this.

"The recent dispute [i.e. the protests] that were sparked by the [morality] police patrol, is an example of how the government tried to force women to wear a special item of clothing, by means of large budgets and extensive campaigns and use of force by police and the courts. However, because their [i.e. women's] way of life is based on conventional [head] coverings [worn loosely in a way that is] accepted in today's society, not only did this not work, but it even cost dearly. People's way of life is created and changes over time, and governments' only wise option is to recognize and respect it.

"A distinguished editor of one of the ideological media outlets [the reference is to Mohammad Javad Akhavan, editor of the IRGC-affiliated Javan newspaper] wrote, 'They [the students] start by [demanding] mixed service [areas in cafeterias] and gradually come [to demand] mixed dorms and mixed swimming in pools.'

"The approach of moving the front line to the enemy's border is a correct and wise strategy. For example, in the war against ISIS, it was said that it was better to fight ISIS in the place where it was established – which was Syria – so it will have no chance of entering Iran. Likewise, Iran-backed forces in Lebanon confront Israel [there] in order to engage it on its borders so that it will not draw near our borders.

"[The argument that] if we desegregate [provision] of services [to students] today, tomorrow they will want mixed swimming in the pool, is based on this perception. But there is one simple point: This strategic outlook is directed at the enemy, not at our own people. The students are neither ISIS nor  Israelis... they are Iranians. We must not use methods of dealing with the enemy against our own people.

"Isn't this reasonable? The students are together in classrooms, labs, and public spaces on and off campus, but we segregate them for half an hour when they eat?!  Look at this from the shari'a point of view: Who gave the decision-makers the right to forbid what is permitted, and vice versa? Where is it mentioned in Islam that men and women may not eat together in the same hall? If there was such a ruling, apparently for the past 40 years all the restaurants and cafes inside and outside the cities should have been gender-segregated! 

"Thus, what the students are requesting is not against the religion. Mixed dorms are not common anywhere in the world today, not even in during the Shah's era, and the students never demanded this. They [the ideologues who want gender segregation] talk about mixed pool swimming as if Iranian universities [even] have swimming pools and the students' problem is mixing [of genders] at the pool!   

"The tactic of spinning people's demands to make them appear vulgar no longer works. That is, they point to a trivial matter [and claim that] the protestors are demanding it, and then take all the demands under [this demand] and crush them all. Not long ago, deputy sports minister [Vahid] Yaminpour said of [one of] the hijab protesters: 'She put her hijab on a stick and stood up high – tomorrow she will put her underwear on a stick!' At this time, unconnected to [Yaminpour's] value judgment, the issue is the hijab as optional as opposed to mandatory. Apparently, the scene described by the deputy minister has not yet happened anywhere in the world except in his fertile imagination!

Iconic 2018 photo of a young woman at a demonstration who removed her hijab and waved it aloft on a stick to protest against the regime's mandatory hijab law (Source:, January 20, 2018)

"The photo showing a group of ideological students in the [self-] service [section of the cafeteria] is extremely shocking. How can a small group claim the right to use tables for a barricade and to stand against the will of the majority, causing a conflict? This photo is a caricature of what is taking place in the wider political and social arena that led to the present crisis. Experience has shown that many young people who are extremists today will end up regretting [their actions] and change their views [a reference to the Iranian students who took over the U.S. embassy in 1979, many of whom later became reformists and expressed regret for their actions]. In a few years we will see this happening with the young people in this photo. But the extremists' cost [to society] cannot be repaid, and the evil long-term consequences [of their actions] will harm society over time...

"It was also reported that following these recent events, the university decided to close the cafeteria and to provide food to the students outside it! This is one small example of the authorities' method of handling cases – a method that does nothing but 'erase the face of the problem!'  

Proving food outside the cafeteria. Asr-e Iran, October 25, 2022

"And a final word: The Iranian people lived together in love and tolerance for the last 7,000 years at least. Do not set a wall between them and do not pit them against one another."[3]

Asr-e Iran: "In Our Country Women Can Ride Pillion On A Motorcycle – But Cannot Be Motorcycle Riders... Senior Officials' Children... Easily Go To America, Europe, And Canada To Study And Of Course To Live – But When The Children Of Ordinary Citizens Decide To Do So, The Officials Start To Moralize

Under the title "One Simple Question: What's The Difference Between A Woman Riding Pillion And A Woman Motorcyclist?," the November 10, 2022 Asr-e Iran editorial criticized the regime's discrimination against women. It listed preventing women from riding motorcycles alone, entering soccer stadiums, and more, and speaks out against the social discrimination against ordinary citizens who leave Iran to study in the West, who are criticized by senior regime officials – while at the same time, the children of those same officials freely do the same. It also complained about the regime's hypocrisy in telling young people to keep away from Western social media while senior officials use it freely to disseminate regime doctrine.

The following are the main points of the editorial:

"Senior regime officials' contradictory words and actions are one of the most important concerns of Iran's young people today. [These] contradictions, which are right before the citizens' eyes, like the cars of the No. 2 subway in Tehran, give rise to numerous questions: Why is this permitted and that not?

"One of the best examples is women riding motorcycles. A point made by former traffic police chief [Alireza Esmaili] underlines this. He said: 'It's paradoxical that in our country women ride pillion but cannot ride a motorcycle alone. This is an error that must be corrected. Riding a motorcycle is a right that is stripped from many women who want to do this.'

Asr-e Iran, November 10, 2022.

"This is a very important and obvious question. The senior officials who voted to ban women from riding motorcycles should explain the difference between a woman riding pillion and one riding on her own. And indeed, why are women not allowed to ride motorcycles?

"There are many such contradictions. For instance, boys and girls can go to the movies, a restaurant, and classes together, but cannot sit together in the university cafeteria. Perhaps the kind of chair in each place is different, and that is why we see such differing rulings.

"Additionally, [the issue] of women entering a stadium perfectly explains this great paradox. Women who function in society, even leaving the house at five AM to get to work, have no right to go to a stadium! Fortunately, of course, FIFA came on the scene and forced [Iran's] soccer association to clear the path for Iranian women to enter stadiums. Now, of course, the stadium doors are closed to all, and men and women share the same pain.

"You also see this contradiction at marches and in elections. Women who are looked at askance [for their loose hijab] in ordinary times and require guidance [in proper hijab wear] are welcome these days; television reporters will do anything to interview them and whoever can interview a woman not wearing her hijab fully is more successful.

"This behavior [on the part of the regime] can be seen even regarding young people's trips to Europe. The children of senior officials of both [the ideological and reformist] streams travel easily to America, Europe, and Canada to study and of course to live. But when the children of ordinary citizens decide to do so, the officials start to moralize, and invite the young people to [stay and] build Iran. Perhaps after this, they [the regime officials] pick up the phone and video chat with their own children [abroad] and ask them how they're doing.

"The contradiction can even be seen on social media. [Regime officials] talk constantly, every day, about the pitfalls of social media and say not to use them – while they themselves maintain a presence on almost all the [regime-]filtered social media platforms. Check out Twitter to see what this means.

"Indeed, the young people's protests are over these contradictions, large and small. The injustice and discrimination are infuriating. A man can tolerate poverty and economic problems, but not discrimination. A man afflicted by discrimination and contradiction always feels failure and resentment. He complains about the injustice being done to him, [saying] that if not for this injustice, he would have as good a life as others. A man who is discriminated against cannot actualize his potential, maintain healthy relationships with others, or, ultimately, play a constructive role in his society's destiny.

"The pain of discrimination is our most significant problem today. As long as this pain isn't cured, there is no hope that society will improve."[4]


*Ayelet Savyon is director of MEMRI's Iran Media Project; M. Manzour is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.


[1], December 7, 2022.

[2] ISNA (Iran), December 10, 2022.

[3] Asr-e Iran (Iran ), October 25, 2022.

[4] Asr-e Iran (Iran ), November 10, 2022.

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