EU Deplores ‘Unacceptable Loss of Life’ in Iran Protests

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini Tuesday deplored “the unacceptable loss of human lives” linked to the protests in Iran and called on “all concerned to refrain from violence,” The Jerusalem Post reports. A total of 21 people have been killed in the protests which erupted last Thursday in the second city Mashhad and quickly spread.

“The European Union is closely following the ongoing demonstrations in Iran, the increase of violence and the unacceptable loss of human lives. Peaceful demonstration and freedom of expression are fundamental rights that apply to every country, and Iran is no exception. In the spirit of openness and respect that is at the root of our relationship, we expect all concerned to refrain from violence and to guarantee freedom of expression,” Mogherini said in a statement released Tuesday night on behalf of the EU, adding that “in the last days, we have been in touch with the Iranian authorities.”

The EU on Monday called on Iran to guarantee the right to protest as authorities moved to crack down on days of unrest. European leaders have joined the United States in condemning what they called an “unacceptable loss of human lives” in nationwide protests in Iran and called on Tehran to allow peaceful protesters to freely express their grievances.

French President Emmanuel Macron and EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini appealed to Tehran late on January 2 after the death of at least 22 people and arrest of more than 450 in six days of protests across Iran in the past week. Macron’s office said he expressed concern about the number of casualties in a phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rohani and urged “restraint and appeasement” toward the protesters.

“Fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate, must be respected,” Macron said.

Macron’s office did not mention the Iranian resistance group, which issued a statement saying Iran’s clerical rulers were “panicking” in the face of the widespread protests.

The statements by European leaders came after a day during which Iran and the United States traded barbs over the protests, with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump saying it will raise Iran’s handling of the protests before the United Nations. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley praised the courage of the demonstrators and rejected claims by Iran’s leadership that the protests were organized by “Iran’s enemies” and driven by outside forces.

“We must not be silent. The people of Iran are crying out for freedom. It takes great bravery for the Iranian people to use the power of their voice against their government, especially when their government has a long history of murdering its own people who dare to speak the truth. Now the Iranian dictatorship is trying to do what it always does, which is to say that the protests were designed by Iran’s enemies. We all know that’s complete nonsense. The demonstrations are completely spontaneous. They are virtually in every city in Iran. This is the precise picture of a long-oppressed people rising up against their dictators,” Haley said.

The Trump administration accused the Iranian government Tuesday of blocking or suppressing communications used by anti-government protesters and began laying the groundwork for new international sanctions targeting alleged human rights abuses. As the protests continued for the sixth day, the Trump administration attempted to grasp whether discontent would spiral into a full-fledged uprising or be smothered in government suppression.

U.S. officials from the White House, the State Department, and the United Nations hastened to respond, calling for Tehran to respect its citizens’ rights to protest peacefully while suggesting the government could be responsible for a death toll that rose to more than 20.

“When a nation clamps down on social media or websites or Google or news sites, we ask the question: What are you afraid of? We support the Iranian people, and we support their voices being heard,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, as she called on Iran to restore access to social-media sites used to spread news of protests.

In an effort to thwart the Iranian government attempts at control, the State Department has urged technology and social media companies “to make sure the free flow of information is not interrupted,” a State Department official said. The unrest also confronts the Trump administration with the dilemma of how far to go in advocating the demise of a clerical regime that has been a sworn enemy of Washington for nearly 40 years.

The protests are the biggest challenge to the Islamic regime since mass demonstrations over a disputed presidential election in 2009, and it is unclear whether the demonstrations currently underway will pose a greater threat to the regime. In 2009, millions of people protested, mostly in the capital of Tehran. They had strong leaders, chief among them the losing candidate in the election. Now, the protests are spreading throughout the country but are attracting far fewer people. And they have no leaders and no single agenda.

Ali Nader, an Iran analyst with the Rand Corp., considers the protests the biggest anti-regime uprising since the revolution in 1979.

“Outside Tehran, the country’s on fire,” he said. “It’s not just a protest movement. This is an uprising. People are not just protesting the price of eggs in Iran. They’re revolting against the Iranian regime.”