Skip to main content

Tehran police chief says officers did not fire on Iranians protesting in capital

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets on Sunday following the downing of Ukrainian passenger jet
Iranians students demonstrate on 11 January following a tribute for the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 in front of the Amirkabir University in Tehran (AFP)

Police in the Iranian capital did not fire on protesters on Sunday and officers have been under orders to show restraint, Tehran's police chief said in a statement carried by the state broadcaster's website on Monday.

Thousands of people have been demonstrating over the downing of a Ukrainian plane by Iran's own forces, as US President Donald Trump warned the government not to kill protesters.

Videos posted on social media late on Sunday had recorded gunshots fired in the vicinity of protests and showed pools of blood.

IRGC commander takes responsibility for Iran's shooting down of Ukrainian plane
Read More »

They also showed images of wounded people being carried by others. The Reuters news agency said it could not authenticate the footage.

"At protests, police absolutely did not shoot because the capital's police officers have been given orders to show restraint," said Hossein Rahimi, head of the Tehran police.

Protests took place across Iran for a second day on Sunday, piling pressure on the leadership after the military admitted it had mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian airliner at a time when Tehran had feared US air strikes.

"They are lying that our enemy is America. Our enemy is right here," a group of protesters outside a university in Tehran chanted, according to video clips posted on Twitter. Middle East Eye could not independently verify the footage.

Posts showed other demonstrators outside a second university and a group of protesters marching to Tehran's Azadi Square. The videos also showed protests in other cities.

Some state-affiliated media carried reports of the university protests, after Saturday's demonstrations sparked by Iran's announcement that its military had mistakenly brought down the Ukrainian plane on Wednesday, killing all 176 aboard.

Tehran residents told Reuters that police were out in force in the capital on Sunday, as public anger boiled up following days of denials by the military that it was to blame, issued even as Canada and the United States said a missile had brought the plane down.

Riot police fired tear gas at thousands of protesters in the capital on Saturday, where many had chanted "Death to the dictator," directing their anger at the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"Apologise and resign," Iran's moderate Etemad daily wrote in a banner headline on Sunday, saying the "people's demand" was for those responsible for mishandling the plane crisis to quit.

The latest upsurge in anger adds to challenges facing the authorities, which launched a bloody crackdown in November to quell protests that were initially focused on an increase in fuel prices. The leadership is also struggling to keep the crippled economy afloat under stringent US sanctions.

The Ukraine International Airlines plane was shot down minutes after taking off from Tehran on Wednesday, when Iranian forces were on alert for US reprisals following tit-for-tat air strikes. Many on board were Iranians with dual citizenship, while 57 were holders of Canadian passports.

Trump tweets

Trump's salvo came as Iran's Islamic government faced a challenge from angry street protests, having come to the brink of war with the US with a series of confrontations.

"To the leaders of Iran - DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS," Trump tweeted, warning that the world and "more importantly, the USA is watching".

In an interview with CBS's Face the Nation just before the tweet, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said Trump was still willing to hold talks with Iran's leaders.

"We're willing to sit down and discuss without precondition a new way forward, a series of steps by which Iran becomes a more normal country," Esper said.

The latest developments and protests followed a build-up of tension between Iran and the United States, which in 2018 withdrew from Tehran's nuclear pact with world powers agreed in 2015 and then toughened up sanctions.

On 3 January, a US drone strike in Iraq killed prominent Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, who had been responsible for building up Iran's network of regional proxy armies in Iraq and beyond. Tehran responded with missile strikes on US targets in Iraq.

No US soldiers were killed, but in the tense hours afterwards the Ukrainian Boeing 737 was cleared to take off from Tehran airport, only to be brought down by a missile fired by mistake.

"It is not a human error. This is a crime against humanity," the son of the toppled shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, wrote on Twitter. "Khamenei and his regime should go."

Rallying to the establishment, Iranian lawmakers praised the elite force's commanders for courage in admitting the error on Saturday, according to Fars news agency, an outlet seen as close to the Guards, a parallel military set up to protect the theocratic system.

Iranian officials sought to portray the plane disaster as a second blow to a mourning nation after Soleimani's death in a US drone strike.

The commander's funeral, before the plane was brought down, had prompted huge public gatherings, which the authorities described as a show of national unity. But those displays of emotion have been overshadowed as protesters on Saturday tore up pictures of the slain general.