The Islamic Republic marked the 44th anniversary of the Iranian revolution on Saturday with state-organised rallies, as anti-government hackers briefly interrupted a televised speech by President Ebrahim Raisi.
Tens of thousands of Iranians rallied Saturday in Tehran and other major cities, as their president said months-long protests had been defeated.
For the past two years, the 1979 overthrow of the Western-backed shah was commemorated mainly by Iranians who drove around cities in their cars or on motorcycles due to COVID restrictions.
But this year, waving flags, they took to the streets of Tehran on foot and converged on Azadi (Freedom) Square, one of the capital’s most prominent landmarks, despite chilly temperatures.
They chanted “Down with the US”, “Down with Israel” and “Down with the UK”, an AFP journalist said.
People held up pictures of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as well as the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic republic, and revered general Qasem Soleimani, killed in a US air strike on Baghdad airport in January 2020.
They also held placards reading “We stand to the end”, “A united, strong and stable Iran” and “We obey the leader”.
Sejjil ballistic missiles and Shahed 136 drones were on display around the square where President Ebrahim Raisi said people had gathered to renew their “allegiance” to the revolution.
“This pledge of allegiance is much greater than a vote” of confidence in the Islamic republic, said the ultra-conservative president.
Raisi also declared victory over the nationwide protest movement triggered by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest for an alleged breach of Iran’s dress code for women.
Hackers say they halted online broadcast of Iran president’s speech
Digital activists supporting anti-government protests said they hacked an online broadcast by state television of a speech by Raisi.
The Edalat-e Ali group posted a video of the purported interruption of Raisi’s address on Twitter, in which it called on Iranians to withdraw their money from “corrupt” regime banks and to take to the streets next week.
“Death to Khamenei”, “Death to the Islamic Revolution”, and “Death to the Islamic republic”, it said on Twitter.
“Many compatriots approached us and asked us to echo the call (for protests) on February 16,” added the group, in its second such reported hacking of state television in support of months-long anti-government protests.
In October, Edalat-e Ali interrupted a live state television broadcast of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meeting state officials, with text on the screen that read “the blood of our youths is on your hands”.
‘Woman, life, freedom’
Authorities say hundreds of people, including dozens of security personnel, have been killed and thousands arrested during the protests which they generally label as “riots”.
The judiciary has sentenced 18 people to death in connection with the protests, according to an AFP tally based on official announcements.
Four people have been executed, triggering international outrage.
In his speech on Saturday, Raisi repeated the accusation that the protests were provoked and fuelled by the West.
“See what the enemies did in this one year and what conspiracies they organised? But the history-making nation of Iran recognised the evil hand of the enemy and shone brightly on the stage and defeated the enemy,” he said.
“The issue of the enemy is neither women, nor life, freedom, human rights and nuclear (programme) but rather they want to take away the independence, freedom and peaceful life of the Iranian nation,” Raisi said.
“Woman, life, freedom” has been the main slogan of the protests triggered by the September 16 death of Amini, an Iranian woman of Kurdish origin.
State television said celebrations for the 44th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution were held in 1,400 cities and towns across the country, and aired footage of large rallies in Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, and Tabriz.
The celebrations mark the day that the shah’s government fell 10 days after Khomeini returned from exile.
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had already fled Iran in January 1979, after months of protests against his rule.