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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Rouhani acknowledges Iranian discontent as protests continue” was written by Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent, for The Guardian on Sunday 31st December 2017 19.09 UTC

Iranian authorities have threatened a crackdown against protesters and scrambled to block social media apps allegedly used to incite unrest as the biggest demonstrations in nearly a decade continued for a fourth day.

People across Iran took to the streets again on Sunday evening in defiance of a heavy presence of riot police and state warnings to stay away.

The demonstrations began over economic grievances on Thursday but have since taken on a political dimension, with unprecedented calls for the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to step down.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, in his first comments about the protests, aired on national television on Sunday night, said “people have the right to criticise”, but said the authorities would not tolerate antisocial behaviour. He said criticism was “different from violence and destroying public properties”.

Officials said they arrested at least 200 people during demonstrations in central Tehran on Saturday. It was not clear how many were arrested in the provinces, which saw protests on a bigger scale than the capital. Two protesters were killed in western Iran on Saturday.

The protests are the biggest in Iran since 2009, when demonstrators called for the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president after what they regarded as his fraudulent re-election.

Videos posted on social media from Saturday night in Tehran showed protesters taking down large banners depicting the ayatollah’s image, in acts of resistance rarely seen since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

One video showed demonstrators taking down an image of the leader of Iran’s powerful Quds force, Qassem Suleimani, who is spearheading Iran’s involvement in regional affairs, particularly the war in Syria.

Rouhani, urging the nation to be vigilant, acknowledged that people were unhappy about the state of economy, corruption and a lack of transparency. “People are allowed under the constitution to criticise or even protest but […] in a way that at the end they lead to a better situation in the country for the people,” he said.

Condemning the US president, Donald Trump, who has voiced support for the protests, Rouhani said: “This gentleman who today sympathises with our people has forgotten that a few months ago he called us a terrorist nation. The one who has opposed the Iranian nation from his head to his toe has no right to express sympathy for people of Iran.”

On Sunday Trump tweeted that “people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism”, adding that the US was “watching very closely for human rights violations”.

Earlier in the day, Iran’s interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazil, said authorities would not tolerate the “spreading of violence, fear and terror”, which he said would “definitely be confronted”.

“Those who damage public property, disrupt order, people’s security and break the law must be responsible for their behaviour and should answer and pay the price,” he said, according to the website of the state broadcaster Irib.

The broadcaster said authorities had blocked Instagram and the messaging app Telegram, which is the most popular social networking platform in Iran, citing an anonymous source who said the move was “in line with maintaining peace and security of the citizens”. Authorities said the filtering was temporary.

It’s hard to overstate the power of Telegram in Iran. Of its 80m population, an estimated 40m use the free app created by Russian national Pavel Durov. Its clients share videos and photos, subscribing to groups where everyone from politicians to poets broadcast to fellow users.

While authorities ban social media websites like Facebook and Twitter and censor others, Telegram users can say nearly anything. In the last presidential election, the app played a big role in motivating turnout and spreading political screeds.

Telegram touts itself as being highly encrypted and allows users to set their messages to “self-destruct” after a certain period, making it a favourite among activists and others concerned about their privacy. That too has made it a worry of Iranian authorities.

A channel run by an exiled journalist, Roohallah Zam, helped organise some of those who took to the street, including times and locations for protests, and was suspended by Durov after Iranian authorities complained that it was inciting violence.

Zam, who denies the allegations, responded by launching new channels to spread messages about upcoming protests before the government ordered the app shut down. 

Telegram’s CEO, Pavel Durov, said it had blocked access to the popular Amadnews channel after it had “started to instruct their subscribers to use Molotov cocktails against police”.

A source in Iran told the Guardian the state had started blocking access to Telegram, but it was not covering all provinces yet.

Authorities said two protesters were killed in the western province of Lorestan on Saturday, but denied it was the result of clashes between demonstrators and riot police.

The deputy governor for Lorestan, Habibollah Khojastehpour, said police and security guards had not opened fire, and instead blamed “Takfiri groups” – Iran’s term for Sunni extremists – and foreign intelligence services. “Unfortunately in these clashes two citizens from [the city of] Doroud were killed,” he said.

Iran protests new version

Many senior figures within the reformist camp and the opposition Green movement remain perplexed as to how to respond to the current wave of unrest. The sharp nature of some of the slogans, which have challenged the foundations of the Islamic republic, has left them mute.

There have been anti-Khamenei chants such as “Death to the dictator” and slogans opposing Iran’s regional policy, including “Let go of Syria, think about us” and “I give my life for Iran, not Gaza, not Lebanon”.

There were also nostalgic slogans in support of the monarchy and the late shah, as well as some with a nationalistic nature, including “We are of Aryaee [Aryan] race, we don’t worship Arabs.” Relatively fewer chants were heard in support of two opposition leaders under house arrest, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

Some videos showed protesters apparently setting bins on fire and trying to break into government buildings. The semi-official Tasnim news, which is close to the elite Revolutionary Guards, published a photo that it said showed a protester setting fire to the Iranian flag. There were chants of “Death to the Revolutionary Guards” in at least one city.

Many Iranians are sceptical about how the protests have spread so quickly. One prominent senior reformist commentator, Hamidreza Jalaipour, said reformists were opposed to protests instigated by “advocates of regime change”, implying that the new wave of protests was not spontaneous.

A protester from Tehran University told the Guardian by phone that although students were puzzled about how the protests were organised and spreading so quickly, they were not “getting leads from anyone”.

Ali Vaez, Iran project director at International Crisis Group, called the protests “an explosion of the Iranian people’s pent-up frustrations over economic and political stagnation”, but he said: “This is neither a revolution nor a movement.”

Vaez said: “Given its lack of leadership, organisation and mission, it is likely to peter out or will be quelled. The Rouhani administration has two options: it can follow the example of its predecessors ([Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani after the protests of the early 1990s and [Mohammad] Khatami after the 1999 student uprising) and opt for a more cautious path, or capitalise on public discontent to push the system towards more genuine reforms. That choice will ultimately determine the Islamic Republic’s fate.”

Iranian conservatives, while acknowledging ordinary people were protesting for what they said were mainly economic reasons, accused foreign powers of inciting violence and exploiting the situation.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Georgia Won’t Examine DNA Evidence That Could Vindicate A Man On Death Row, Who’s Being Executed Tonight

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A Georgia man on death row in Georgia is scheduled to be executed Wednesday evening with a lethal injection, although he repeatedly insists that the state examine crucial DNA evidence that could exonerate him.

Ray “Jeff” Cromartie, 52, acknowledges being involved in a robbery in a shop near the Georgia-Florida border in 1994 that left one clerk dead, but he has long confirmed that he was not the person who shot the gun that killed Richard Slysz. He maintains his co-defendant, Corey Clark, shot Slysz, and that DNA testing on both clothing and bullet casings might prove that claim. One of the co-suspects of Cromartie also believes that Clark may have shot Slysz, and the victim’s daughter has also asked for DNA testing as well.

Since Cromartie retains his innocence, he refuses to ask the state for leniency. He also rejected the original 1997 plea deal offered to him by prosecutors, since he would be required to plead guilty.

In the second half of the nineties, both Clark and the getaway driver for the robbery, Thad Lucas, evaded the charges of murder and the death penalty for agreeing to testify for the state. In exchange, they were given shorter sentences. Meanwhile, Clark designated Cromartie as the shooter, although there was never any physical evidence that linked him to the murder. Cromartie was still convicted. Lucas and Clark both completed time in prison, but were released in the early 2000s, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Although Clark has been mainly out of sight of the public since he was accused of violating his parole back in 2015, Lucas came forward in an affidavit this week to affirm that he once overheard Clark confess, and said that he couldn’t be sure that Cromartie was the shooter after all.

“I keep hearing that Jeff Cromartie is the shooter, and I know that is probably not true,” Lucas wrote. He said he didn’t come forward earlier because he didn’t think it would change anything, but then news coverage compelled him to speak out.

Slysz’s daughter, Elizabeth Legette, has also said she supports DNA testing to prevent another “meaningless” death. “My father’s death was senseless. Executing another man would also be senseless, especially if he may not have shot my father,” she wrote in a July 16 letter released by Cromartie’s defense team.

Cromartie’s lawyers also appealed Friday, stating that in 1997, Lucas told the Georgia Board of Pardons and Probation in 1997 that Clark, not Cromartie, shot Slysz.

State attorneys, however, have argued that Lucas does not know what happened in the store on the night of the shooting (he was waiting in the car while Clark ran inside with Cromartie) and that the claims do not conform to the standard where the court would review the evidence or would hold a new trial.

As early as September, a judge ruled that the attorneys had failed to review DNA evidence and that the verdict was ratified by the Georgia Supreme Court this month. Southern Judicial Circuit Senior Judge Frank Horkan, who had originally headed Cromartie’s death penalty trial, also said in September that Cromartie waited too long to request DNA testing and that testing would make no difference.

Cromartie could still be executed, even if DNA evidence were to prove he didn’t pull the trigger due to Georgia’s law of parties, which holds people legally responsible, also if they are involved in a crime and not the main culprit of a crime such as murder.

Currently, Cromartie is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7.00 pm EST. in Georgia Diagnostic Prison in Jackson. He is said to be the third prisoner to be executed in Georgia in 2019, and at least the second high-profile execution of a black man who insists he can be acquitted by DNA evidence. Rodney Reed, a Texas man on death row who claims to be innocent of the murder he was indicted, is due to be executed on November 20. According to the Innocence Project, a legal organization that’s representing Reed in his call to survive, DNA evidence has exonerated at least 20 people in death row.

Live coverage of developments in Ray Cromartie’s execution happening below.

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Incident At ‪Schiphol Airport‬

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Police are responding to an incident on board a plane at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam.‬ ‪

Police have surrounded an Air Europa plane at a cargo area of Schiphol Airport following an incident on board.

The Royal Dutch Military Police have confirmed they are investigating a suspicious situation aboard an aircraft at Schiphol Airport.

German Outlet Nieuwsuur reports that scanner traffic indicates a ”heavily armed Special Security Unit DSI” has arrived at the airport.

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