By Syed Zafar Mehdi
TEHRAN, Iran (AA) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday accused the United States and Israel of “stoking unrest” in the country, in his first reaction since the death of a young Iranian woman in police custody.
Addressing a graduation ceremony of army cadets at Imam Hassan Mujtaba University of Officer and Police Training in Tehran, Khamenei termed Mahsa Amini’s death as “tragic” but condemned what he called “riots and unrest” in reaction to the incident.
He said he “openly states” that the recent “riots and unrest” in Iran were “schemes designed” by the US, Israel, their “mercenaries” and some “treasonous Iranians abroad” who supported them.
Iran’s leader said “weakening the armed forces is weakening the country’s security,” adding that those who attacked a police station “attack the security of the country.”
He was referring to an attack on a police station in the city of Zahedan in southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province on Friday, which led to violent clashes between protesters and policemen, leaving more than 40 dead, including civilians and policemen.
Iranian authorities blamed the attack on “terrorists and separatists”, which came in reaction to the death of Amini last month, an incident that has drawn global outrage and condemnation.
In the last few weeks, the Iranian Foreign Ministry has summoned the envoys of the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands to lodge protests over what it insists are “instigating riots”.
Khamenei, in his remarks, termed the turn of events in recent weeks as “planned”, hitting at the United States for “lying” about its concern over human rights in Iran.
He said riots occasionally erupt in countries like France, but American officials never back the rioters there while they extend such support in Iran, blaming a “foreign hand” for the recent protests.
“Their main problem is with a strong and independent Iran and the progress of the country,” he said.
Many top US officials have in recent weeks issued strongly-worded statements condemning the death of Amini in police custody, drawing sharp reactions from Tehran.
The US National Security Council in a statement described Amini’s death as an “appalling and egregious affront to human rights,” while US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan termed it “unforgivable”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on the Iranian government “to end its systematic persecution of women and allow peaceful protest” after Amini’s death.
The Biden administration also announced sanctions against Iran’s morality police, who detained Amini before she fainted and was later pronounced dead at a hospital, for alleged violence against women.
Iran, in reaction, decried what it called “foreign interventionist positions” regarding this incident and advised these countries to “avoid opportunism and selective use of human rights.”
On Sunday, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said it had arrested nine foreign nationals for involvement in “riots", along with 256 members of outlawed opposition groups.
Amini’s family has accused the police of beating her that caused her cardiac stroke. An Iranian government investigation into the incident is yet to conclude.