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Online Calls To Protest More Than Doubled In One Year, Iran Security Official Says

Photo released by ISNA newsagency show gathering in front of Sharif University in Tehran in protest against Khamenei For Deceiving Public About Plane Crash. January 11, 2020.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Hossein Zolfaqari, the Security Deputy of Iran's Interior Ministry, said that “social tensions” in the first five months of the current Iranian calendar year have increased by 227 percent compared to the same period last year.

According to Mehr News Agency, Zolfaqari said that authorities have tracked 1,702 online calls for protest since the beginning of the year, compared to 519 calls to protest last year in the first five months of the year starting March 21, 2019.

Zolfaqari counted U.S. sanctions, espionage and "funding and intelligence support" as some of the efforts made by "enemy intelligence services" to undermine Iran’s security. These attempts, he said, were made through "terrorist actions and inciting people [to unrest] on social media.”

"The source of most of the calls to protests and the hashtags used is outside the country,” Zolfaqari said, adding, “Some people inside may also share these calls [on social media].” Zolfaqari also alleged that the foreign media focus on incidents such as labor protests is intended to "destabilize [Iran] and push the state of affairs to something similar to Syria.”

In November and December 2019, widespread protests erupted across Iran first in protest to the sudden tripling of the price of gasoline. Tens of thousands of protesters were arrested, and according to Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli, more than 200 protesters were killed. This figure has been widely contested, with some estimates placing the number of protesters who were killed as high as 1,500.

A social media campaign to abolish the death penalty and stop the execution of political prisoners and dissidents has also been of much concern to the Iranian authorities. In only a few days, more than 10 million Twitter users posted or retweeted posts with the hashtag #Don't_Kill /#Don't_Execute to support the campaign.

Labor protests and strikes across the country that have received online attention included the ongoing strike of workers of Haft Tapeh Agro-Industrial Complex in Khuzestan province, which started in June.