Iran's state TV has aired footage of pro-government rallies in Tehran and elsewhere, staged to show its popularity, amid ongoing fierce opposition protests.
A video posted on Twitter shows a crowd of pro-establishment protesters marching on Enghelab (Revolution) Ave in central Tehran, a short distance of 700 feet, following Friday prayers at the campus of Tehran University who chant “Hypocrite Seditionists Must Be Hanged!” Some Tehran residents tweeted that the crowd was much smaller than in previous government-organized rallies.
In his sermon, Tehran’s Friday prayer leader Kazem Sadighi accused protesters of “unveiling Muslim women and torching the Quran” and urged the judiciary to punish “the leaders of the riots” who he called murderers.
The accusations by the Friday Imam are not substantiated by reports and video footage form the anti-government protests. There have been no reports of the Quran being burned and many women in the rallies still have their heads covered.
Iranian authorities usually call the opposition “seditionists”. They always attribute “seditions” to foreign powers such as the United States and Britain or the exiled Mojahedin Khalq organization, known as MEK, which in official rhetoric of the Islamic Republic are always rereferred to as ‘Hypocrites’.
The IRGC-linked Tasnim news agency said Friday morning that Iranians “will unanimously condemn riots” and published calls from various officials including Friday imams in various cities to rally against protesters after the prayers but footage and photos of such rallies are conspicuously very rare on social media and state affiliated news agencies.
Government-organized pro-establishment rallies have a long history in the Islamic Republic. On December 30, 2009, extensive government-sponsored rallies took place after months of opposition protests to show support for the clerical regime and justify suppression of dissent. Thousands mobilized by the state were bussed in to designated rally venues from government offices, schools, the military, and even factories. Officials and pro-establishment media refer to the occasion which has turned into an annual pro-establishment march as the "Dey 9 Epic”.
Chief Justice Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei on Thursdaysaid that the Judiciary would investigate the case of Mahsa Amini, the woman whose death in police custody triggered the popular protests, while threatening to take decisive action “without any leniency” against “rioters”. The Intelligence Ministry has also threatened protesters with legal prosecution.
Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) also reacted over the protests Thursday after five days of mysterious silence by accusing and threatening the protesters. In its statement, the IRGC said it appreciated the efforts of the people and police in recent days against “enemies’ organized plots” and “protecting Iranians’ lives, assets and families”.
Iran's regular army (Artesh) also warned in a statement Friday thatit would "confront the enemies" to ensure security and peace in the country. Referring to the protests in the past few days, the army said,"these desperate actions are part of the evil strategy of the enemy to weaken the Islamic government" and expressed support for the Police and law enforcement forces.
The Army has long taken the back seat to the IRGC, with almost all its commanders and officers coming from the Revolutionary Guard.
The army’s statement came a day after a popular former national football (soccer) team player, Ali Karimi, called on Artesh, which is much less involved in politics or crackdown on protesters than the Revolutionary Guard, to side with the people to prevent “bloodshed” during current protests.
Karimi, 44, who lives in the UAE has also called on protesters not to attack banks, women clad in black veils, and respect the Quran. “Don’t join in with anyone who does these things because these are some of the plots of [regime agents to discredit] you my dear people,” Karimi tweeted Thursday. Videos posted on social media show protesters chanting Karimi’s name and cheering him in some areas of Tehran Thursday evening.