Iranians launched a new wave of protests on January 11 after Iran admitted that the Revolutionary Guards had mistakenly shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. All 176 people on board, including dozens of Iranians, were killed. Iranians were enraged at the government’s incompetence and for denying responsibility for three days. “Death to the liars,” people shouted in Tehran.
The demonstrations came soon after mass protests in November 2019 sparked by a gas price hike, although they were on a smaller scale. At Amir Kabir University in Tehran, some people chanted, “Commander-in-chief (Khamenei) resign, resign.” Others shouted, “Death to the supreme leader, all these years of crimes.” Security forces beat demonstrators and used tear gas to disperse them.
President Trump tweeted words of encouragement in English and Persian. “To the brave, long-suffering people of Iran: I've stood with you since the beginning of my Presidency, and my Administration will continue to stand with you. We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage,” he wrote. He also warned that the world would be watching to see if there was “another massacre of peaceful protestors.”
به مردم شجاع و رنج کشیده ایران: من از ابتدای دوره ریاست جمهوریم با شما ایستادهام و دولت من همچنان با شما خواهد ایستاد. ما اعتراضات شما را از نزدیک دنبال می کنیم. شجاعت شما الهام بخش است.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2020
On January 12, the second day, protests spread across Tehran and other major cities despite the deployment of riot police, the Revolutionary Guards and plainclothes police. Tear gas and live ammunition were reportedly fired. Tehran’s police chief acknowledged that security forces had fired tear gas but denied they had used live ammunition. “Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance,” he told Iranian media.
Police in Iran deny using live ammunition to disperse protesters as outrage over the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet grows.— DW News (@dwnews) January 14, 2020
Video from a protest in Tehran shows several people wounded. pic.twitter.com/0aClchI8g2
Demonstrators shouted slogans against the regime and the Revolutionary Guards. Some went further, calling for the end of the Islamic Republic.
Amol, Mazandaran Province #IranProtests2020— IranHumanRights.org (@ICHRI) January 12, 2020
Chants include: "We don't want, we don't want, the Islamic Republic." Eyewitnesses there told us they saw plainclothes/armed agents that were trying to avoid direct confrontation with crowds and heavier use of tear than Nov. protests. pic.twitter.com/CF3PSi3vEN
At Shahid Beheshti University, students deliberately avoided walking over American and Israeli flags – painted on the ground for people to symbolically insult the “Great Satan” and “Little Satan.”
Etemad, a reformist newspaper, reflected the public call for accountability on its front page.
Etemad: Apologize, Resign
People Call for Apology, Resignation of Officials Involved
At least three presenters for Iranian state TV quit their jobs in protest. “It was very hard for me to believe that our people have been killed,” said Gellare Jabbari, an anchor for IRIB, on her Instagram. “Forgive me that I got to know this late. And forgive me for the 13 years I told you lies.”
On January 13, students at universities in Isfahan and Tehran shouted, “Clerics get lost!” Police in riot gear reportedly patrolled another part of the capital. A steep drop in internet connectivity registered at Sharif University, where students protested the deaths of colleagues and alumni killed on the Ukrainian flight. The government previously shut down the internet for five days to prevent images of the protests and crackdown from spreading over social media during the November 2019 protests sparked by a gas price hike.
The Tehran-based Association of Iranian Journalists condemned the government’s shifting story on the Ukrainian Airliner flight shootdown as a “funeral for public trust.” They added that “this incident showed that people cannot trust official data and journalists should try to fill this gap as much as possible.”
More than 30 filmmakers, artists and cartoonists said they would not participate in the Fajr festival, Iran’s equivalent of the Oscars, in April. "The only way out of the current situation is a crucial decision and straight talking by authorities with the people," they wrote in a statement. Arman-e Melli, a reformist newspaper, published photos of the artists on its front page on January 14. “Wave of Artists Withdrawing,” read the headline.
Protests continued on January 14, day four, at several university campuses. Netblocks, which monitors internet connectivity, observed a 10-minute nationwide disruption at 5:52pm local time. The cause was not clear.
Iranian officials said 30 people had been arrested for their involvement in “illegal” demonstrations. They denied reports about violent crackdowns and said “legal protests” would be tolerated.
On January 15, Iranians on social media issued calls for more demonstrations, but no large gatherings were reported. Security forces were still deployed in large numbers.
Dozens of students at Isfahan University staged a silent-sit in on campus. The demonstrators wore surgical masks marked with a black “X” to symbolize the government’s crackdown on protests in November. Several students held signs which read “1,500 + 176,” an apparent reference to number of people reported killed November, plus the number killed in Iran’s accidental downing of the Ukrainian airliner.
On January 16, protesters held anti-government demonstrations in Isfahan and Sanandaj during funeral services for victims of the downed Ukrainian airliner. Demonstrators chanted "Down with the dictator” and “Death on tyrants, whether shahs or supreme leaders.” Basij militiamen attempted to drown out the protestors by increasing the volume of loudspeakers broadcasting the funerals. After the ceremonies, riot police cracked down on protesters in Isfahan, according to social media posts. Demonstrators were allegedly attacked with tasers and injuries were reported.