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Protesters in Iran are determined to be heard despite crackdowns

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Iranian government carried out two executions over the weekend, prompting more international condemnations over its attempt to crush several months of anti-government protests. But as NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, Iranians are determined to be heard, despite the ongoing crackdown and official attempts to cut off internet access.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The two men who were hanged this weekend took the number of known executions to four. Dozens of other people also face possible death penalties. Iran's hardline government calls the demonstrators rioters armed by Iran's enemies. Some 500 people, according to rights groups, have been killed by security forces on the streets. But protesters vow they'll go on. Like others contacted via the internet for this story, Javad, in his 50s and from central Iran, asked that his family name not be used for fear of retribution for speaking out against the government and talking to foreign media. But he's been protesting ever since the death of a 22-year-old woman in the custody of the morality police sparked the unrest in September. He says force by the government won't stop him.

JAVAD: (Through interpreter) We saw that the government didn't budge at all, didn't acknowledge any of the demands. So people have gotten angrier and angrier. Although recently, there are fewer street protests due to the crackdowns. In the coming year, there are certainly going to be more. You can see signs of this rage in the society.

KENYON: Javad does see one way the protesters could strengthen their hand. He says there needs to be more of a connection between the demonstrators inside Iran and members of the large Iranian diaspora around the world who would also love to see the government in Tehran fall. Without that cooperation, he says, quote, "people will find it difficult to trust the opposition." Arman, another demonstrator who's in his 30s and from Tehran, says he wouldn't be surprised to see what he calls another explosive wave of protests, especially if the government crackdowns get worse.

ARMAN: (Through interpreter) There is absolutely no end to the will of the government for intensifying its violence. The sole obstacle that has hindered the security forces is how widespread the protests are compared with the weakness of the crackdown machine. Many security forces refuse to beat people in their own towns and cities. So the government has to constantly move them from one city to another so they can continue to suppress protests.

KENYON: As for what world powers can or should do, Arman says the protesters ask only that they live up to their commitment to the principles of democracy and human rights.

ARMAN: (Through interpreter) Today's world claims it has learned multiple lessons from ignoring the crimes of different dictators in the past. Those must be kept in mind and remembered when facing one of the most appalling fundamentalist dictatorships in world history, especially at a time when the world has been observing how an entirely democratic and liberal movement is fighting against them inside the country.

KENYON: Analyst Ali Vaez at the International Crisis Group says he sees Iran today in a similar place to where the former Soviet Union was, not in the late 1980s when it was on the verge of collapse but in the early 1980s.

ALI VAEZ: Early 1980s, in the sense that it's a system that is ideologically bankrupt, economically broken, at a political dead end and simply unable to address its problems with the same cast of characters who created this deadlock to begin with.

KENYON: But Vaez also says while the protesters are calling for something many Iranians would like to see, the toppling of the government, only a minority is willing to take to the streets and risk their liberty or their lives to demand it. As long as the protests don't reach what he calls critical mass, he says the regime is unlikely to fracture or lose its willingness to repress demonstrations by force. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.