Iran faces dilemma as children join protests in ‘unprecedented’ phenomenon


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Earlier this year, Iran flaunted a new patriotic song targeting school children around the country. Titled “Salute, Commander,” the song was a tribute to Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Imam Mahdi, a descendant of Prophet Mohammed who Shiite Muslims believe went into hiding in the 10th century and will reappear one day to end injustice.

“Salute, commander,” goes the song. “I’m a child, but the life of my family and I, all belongs to you.” In a music video published on Iranian media, thousands of young boys and veiled girls are seen singing in unison to a live performance of the song. Some are seen crying, and others are wearing military uniforms while holding posters of former Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a United States airstrike in 2020.

Critics decried the song as an attempt to indoctrinate children and instill in them loyalty for the Islamic Republic.

But Iran analysts say that current anti-regime protests sweeping through the country have shown that the regime has failed to subdue the younger generation after more than 40 years in power.

Protests erupted in Iran on September 17, triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in a hospital three days after being arrested by “morality police” and taken to a “re-education center.”

More than half of Iranians were born after the 1979 Islamic revolution and have known no other regime, but many are now speaking out.

School children are protesting their leaders on an unprecedented scale that may prove difficult to contain, say experts. In videos on social media and seen by CNN, more protests now involve school children.

“There is another layer [to the demonstrations], which is the protests we have been seeing in schools,” said Tara Sepehri Far, a senior researcher in the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, adding that it is “unprecedented” for Iran.

The government has said it is sending underaged protesters to mental health centers.

In an interview with a reformist Iranian newspaper, Iran’s Education Minister Yousef Nouri last week acknowledged that school students had indeed been protesting, and the government has been responding by detaining and sending them to mental health facilities. The establishments are meant to “reform” the protesting students and rid them of their “anti-social” behaviors, he said.

The mental health facilities act like detention centers, said Hossein Raeesi, an Iranian human rights lawyer and adjunct professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, adding that within the establishments, psychologists and social workers are following a strict government agenda and aren’t allowed to work independently with the children.

“They don’t provide psychological and psychosocial support for the kids,” Raeesi told CNN, but rather “brainwash” them and often intimidate or threaten them. “They come out worse than when they entered.”

While the official did not say how many students have been detained so far, experts say that a large number of children are at risk as the protests have heavy youth participation.

Sepehri Far of Human Rights Watch said authorities are finding it difficult to police underage demonstrators. While it is easy to criminalize adult protesters, violent crackdowns against children risk full-blown anger throughout the country, she added.

Rear Adm. Ali Fadavi, the deputy commander of the IRGC, placed the average age of those arrested in “recent riots” at 15 years old, reported the state news agency IRNA on October 5. The commander attributed the phenomenon to “neglect of education.”

Rights groups say the crackdown on children has been brutal, with the government responding to child protesters with arrests and even violence.

Between September 20 and September 30, rights watchdog Amnesty International documented the killing of at least 23 children, it said last week, sounding the alarm about an already violent crackdown that is now targeting children.

According to Amnesty, “most of the boys were killed by security forces unlawfully firing live ammunition at them,” and “three girls and a boy died after fatal beatings by security forces.”

“Two boys died after being shot with metal pellets at close range,” it added.

The watchdog said it has so far recorded the deaths of 144 men, women and children killed by Iran’s security forces between September 19 and October 3. Overall, 16% of deaths are children, said Amnesty, adding that the real number of total deaths is estimated to be higher.

CNN cannot independently verify the death toll.

On Sunday, video obtained by CNN from the pro-reform activist outlet IranWire showed high school students in Tehran’s Narmak area protesting and chanting “Death to the dictator.” On Friday and Saturday, high school girls were seen taking off their headscarves and protesting in the cities of Ardabil and Sanandaj, video obtained by CNN showed.

Iran also witnessed protests in October by high school students in the northern city of Rasht, as well as in Ghaleh Hassan Khan, a town east of Tehran, according to video obtained by CNN.

The United Nation’s children agency UNICEF has also called for the protection of children and adolescents amid Iran’s protests.

“The Iranian authorities’ unrelenting brutal crackdown on what many in Iran consider an ongoing popular uprising against the Islamic Republic system has involved an all-out attack on child protesters,” Nassim Papayianni, Amnesty International’s senior campaigner on Iran, told CNN.

After years of enforced ideological education, authorities are now faced with a generation that is particularly defiant, said Sepehri Far. “It’s a generation standing up to them.”

OPEC+ members endorse output cut after US coercion claim

OPEC+ member states lined up on Sunday to endorse the steep production cut agreed this month after the White House accused Riyadh of coercing some other nations into supporting the move, Reuters reported. The kingdom’s Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman said the October 5 decision to reduce output by 2 million barrels per day – taken despite oil markets being tight – was unanimous and based on economic factors. His comments were backed by ministers of several OPEC+ member states, including the United Arab Emirates.

  • Background: US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday that “more than one” OPEC member had felt coerced by Saudi Arabia into the vote, adding that the cut would also increase Russia’s revenues and blunt the effectiveness of sanctions imposed over its February invasion of Ukraine.
  • Why it matters: The spat between the US and Saudi Arabia intensified last week, with US politicians considering punitive measures against the kingdom. Saudi Arabia on Sunday denied it was supporting Moscow in its invasion of Ukraine and King Salman said in an address to the kingdom’s advisory Shura Council that the country was a mediator of peace and highlighted the crown prince’s initiative to release POWs from Russia last month.

Palestinian Authority PM makes rare appearance in militant stronghold of Jenin

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh made a rare appearance in the West Bank refugee camp in Jenin – a militant stronghold where the Palestinian Authority has little control – on Sunday to show support for Palestinians, including militants, killed by the Israeli military.

  • Background: Standing alongside the families with posters of those killed behind him, Shtayyeh said “the blood of the martyrs will not be in vain, and the darkness of the prisons that our prisoners pay for will not be in vain.” Shtayyeh was flanked both by Palestinian Authority security forces and members of the militant Jenin Brigades, which are not under PA control. The prime minister accused Israel of financing “its electoral campaign with Palestinian blood every day,” ahead of Israeli elections on November 1.
  • Why it matters: The Palestinian Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas are growing increasingly unpopular among Palestinians, according to recent polling, in part because of behavior including arresting political dissidents and not holding elections, and because of continued cooperation with Israel on security matters. The appearance and speech are unusual because the Palestinian Authority has little control or influence in the northern West Bank, where the Israeli military has been conducting near-daily raids, it says, in order to arrest militants and confiscate weapons before they can carry out attacks against Israelis.

UN refugee agency ‘deeply distressed’ by reports of nearly 100 naked migrants at Greece-Turkey border

The United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR on Sunday said it was “deeply distressed” by reports of nearly 100 naked migrants at the border between Greece and Turkey. “We condemn such cruel and degrading treatment and call for a full investigation into this incident,” said the agency on Twitter.

  • Background: Greek police said on Saturday that its forces had “discovered 92 illegal migrants without clothes and some of them with injuries on their bodies” near the country’s northern border on Friday. Turkey and Greece have blamed each other for the situation. Greece’s minister of migration and asylum, Notis Mitarachi, tweeted a photograph Saturday of what he implied were some of the 92 migrants at the border, accusing Turkey of shameful behavior. Turkey has denied involvement in the incident. It was not clear why the men in the photo were not clothed. CNN has not been able to independently verify the photograph.
  • Why it matters: Greece was at the center of Europe’s migrant crisis in the mid-2010s, when millions of refugees and migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq traveled to the continent. Greece has taken a hardline approach since then, rebuffing pleas from Turkey and international organizations to allow more migrants through its borders.

The humanitarian aid that Saudi Arabia will provide to Ukraine. The kingdom announced the aid after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday. The Biden administration has accused Riyadh of siding with Russia in its war in Ukraine after the Saudi-led OPEC+ oil cartel moved to cut production.

Forty-nine years ago, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced that it was imposing an oil embargo against the United States in retaliation for its support of Israel during the Arab-Israeli war.

Dominated by Arab states, OPEC also extended the embargo to other Western states that supported Israel, including the Netherlands, Portugal and South Africa.

The embargo came at a time when the oil market was already volatile, rocked by arguments and negotiations between oil-producing countries and oil companies. The OPEC decision included a ban on petroleum exports to the US and other states, but also an oil production cut. The consequences were dire.

In just a few months, oil prices quadrupled, going from $2.90 a barrel before the embargo to $11.65 a barrel in January 1974, according to the US federal reserve history.

The embargo severely strained the US economy, which at the time had relied heavily on foreign oil imports. The embargo also coincided with the devaluation of the dollar.

A month later, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger began talks with Arab states. Negotiations led to the Egyptian-Israeli Disengagement Agreement of January 18, 1974. OPEC lifted the oil embargo in March of 1974.

By Nadeen Ebrahim

Palestinian farmers and activists pick olives during harvest season at a grove in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday.

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