Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addressed the ongoing wave of protests sweeping his country in a televised speech on Wednesday, as the protests mix opposition to the country’s hijab law and a more broader opposition to the Islamic regime itself.

“Criticism paves the way for reforms. However, criticism is different from rioting,” state media outlet Tehran Times quoted Raisi as saying. “Disrupting the people’s ordinary lives by causing riots is unacceptable.”

Mass protests broke out on Sept. 16, after Tehran’s “morality” police beat to death 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for not wearing a hijab, a Muslim headscarf, required under the laws of the Islamic Republic.  

“We all are saddened by this tragic incident,” Raisi said in his address. “I assured her family that I will personally follow this issue with great care until the perpetrators are brought to justice.”

The president noted that Iranian authorities are waiting for the investigation into the case to be completed and that, thus far, he has only received preliminary reports.

The protests have spread into dozens of Iranian cities in recent days, with footage being shared of women cutting their hair and burning their hijabs, or simply defying Iranian law by walking with their hair exposed. 

The protests have picked up international support on social media and in Western countries, where protests are being staged in solidarity with the women of Iran. A large global show of support for the Iranian struggle against religious control is planned for Oct. 1.  

Despite the international interest in the conflict, Raisi refuses to accept foreign criticism against Tehran’s conduct and rules; in fact, he hinted that other countries are fueling the unrest, saying that “the enemy embraces riots and insecurity in Iran.”

“Sanctions and riots are two sides of one coin,” he said. On Sept. 22, the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced the issuance of sanctions on Iran’s Guidance Patrol (morality police), as well as seven senior leaders of Iran’s security organizations. 

“In the U.S., more than 1,000 people are killed by the police annually, and now they are defendants of human rights?” Raisi said in his address. “A country that gave chemical weapons to Saddam is now claiming to be the defendant of human rights in Iran.”

One week ago, Raisi was in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, where he met on the sidelines with French President Emmanuel Macron. In his televised speech, Raisi said Macron brought up the issue of human rights, and he responded: “We are the claimant, not the culprit.”

“I told Mr. Macron examples of human rights violations by the French government, and I lamented him for double standards,” Raisi said.

Raisi’s speech followed the publication of reports that Iranian security forces have killed dozens of protesters in Iran and arrested more than a thousand. 

According to The Associated Press, enforcement of the compulsory hijab law might have triggered the current uprising, but its essence cuts deeper than this issue alone. The head covering serves as a symbol at “the heart of the identity of Iran’s cleric-led state.”

From that perspective, previous mass protests in Iran do not resemble the current one. In 2019, masses took to the streets to protest soaring fuel prices; in 2009, the “reformist” Green Movement led protests in the aftermath of an election considered fraudulent, the organization calling for a gradual opening-up of Iranian society. 

“But none of Iran’s political parties – even the most progressive, reformist-led ones  – supported abolishing the compulsory veil,” the A.P. said. 

Raisi is reading the new atmosphere in Iran, and has responded: “Approaches can change, but values will never change.” 

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