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Iran’s reformist ex-president praises ‘beautiful’ protests, pans regime’s crackdown

Mohammad Khatami calls ‘Woman, life, freedom’ chant a message for a ‘better future,’ adds that freedom and security must not be pitted against each other

File: Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami speaks during a gathering in Tehran to support a leading reformist candidate in presidential elections on May 23, 2009. (AP photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)
File: Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami speaks during a gathering in Tehran to support a leading reformist candidate in presidential elections on May 23, 2009. (AP photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

TEHRAN, Iran — Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami has voiced support for the protest movement sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, describing as “beautiful” its main slogan — “Woman, life, freedom.”

Protests have swept Iran for nearly three months since Amini died after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s hijab dress code for women based on Islamic sharia law.

The authorities, who have struggled to contain the protests, describe them as “riots” fomented by Iran’s arch-foe the United States and its allies including Britain and Israel.

Khatami, a reformist who served as Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005 but has been effectively silenced by the establishment for years, has come out in support of the movement.

The 79-year-old described the slogan “Woman, life, freedom” — the main chant heard at the protests — as “a beautiful message that shows movement towards a better future.”

“Freedom and security must not be placed against each other,” he said in a statement quoted by ISNA news agency Tuesday, on the eve of Students’ Day.

Iranians protest the death of Mahsa Amini after she was detained by the morality police, in Tehran, October 1, 2022. (Photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran/ Middle East Images)

“Freedom must not be trampled on in order to maintain security” and “security should not be ignored in the name of freedom,” he said.

Khatami also spoke out against the arrest of students who have been at the forefront of the protests that erupted across Iran since Amini’s death in custody on September 16.

The imposition of restrictions “cannot ultimately ensure the stable security of universities and society,” he said.

In his statement, Khatami also called on officials to “extend students a helping hand” and to recognize the “wrong aspects of governance” with their help before it is too late.

Khatami was barred from appearing in the media after mass protests triggered by the disputed 2009 re-election of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In this June 15, 2009 file photo, hundreds of thousands of supporters of leading opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims there was voting fraud in Friday’s election, turn out to protest the result of the election at a mass rally in Azadi (Freedom) square in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

Iran’s top security body, the Supreme National Security Council, said on Saturday that more than 200 people have been killed in the unrest.

An Iranian general said last week that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of security personnel.

Norway-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights said on November 29 that at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”

Thousands have been arrested, including prominent Iranian actors and footballers.

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