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Prayer Imams In Iran Urge Government To Keep Internet Shut

Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami delivers a sermon during the Friday Prayers in Tehran, November 22, 2019

Friday Prayer Imams in Tehran and Mashhad have called on the government not to restore internet service to citizens in Iran that have been blocked to conceal the violent suppression of anti-government protest during this week.

Most Friday Prayer Imams in Iranian cities mildly criticized President Hassan Rouhani for "shocking the people" by increasing the price of gasoline without preparing public opinion for the change.

In Tehran, firebrand Ahmad Khatami said "the Rouhani administration could have handled the gas price hike more efficiently to prevent the unrest" that quickly spread to over 100 cities and turned into a major political upheaval.

Elsewhere in his sermon, Khatami said, "Protestors took revenge from God as they attacked mosques and torched the Koran." Based on precedence, it is generally believed in Iran that attacking mosques, banks and government buildings have been engineered by the government in order to incriminate the demonstrators.

He also claimed, without presenting evidence, that the United States and France supported violence during the protest demonstrations that started Friday November 15 following a government measure that increased the price of gasoline three-fold.

Khatami further claimed that "the enemies have been planning the protest for three years." This comes while even Iran's oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh has said that he did not know about the sudden price hike the day before it was implemented. Khatami also accused Saudi Arabia of spending money to instigate the protests.

Earlier Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Rouhani had also accused the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia of being behind the unrest.

Meanwhile, he praised the Iranian security forces for suppressing the protests. However, he added that "only a few" people took part in the demonstrations, while available video footage shows thousands of people protesting in dozens of cities. He also called on the Iranian Judiciary to hand maximum sentences to "the rebels that created terror and havoc in the society."

Elsewhere in his sermon, Khatami praised the Rouhani administration for blocking internet access and suggested that the government should replace the internet with homegrown messaging services. "Please do not unblock the internet! You saw that it teaches the people how to commit crimes," he claimed.

On Thursday, Khatami as the spokesperson for the Assembly of Experts said that "the Assembly has approved a ban social media." The statement was made while the Assembly of Experts has no legislative power. Subsequently, social media users harshly criticized Khatami for not knowing enough about the assembly where he is a key member.

In Mashhad, northeast Iran, one of the most hardline ultraconservative clerics, Ahmad Alamolhoda also called for blocking social media sites and applications, reports said.

Meanwhile, Alamolhoda criticized the Rouhani administration for "shocking the people" by increasing the price of gasoline without prior notice. He said the protest started when the people were taken by surprise by the sudden price hike.

Alamolhoda’s criticism contradicts what Khamenei has admitted that he knew about the decision and approved it. This means raising gasoline prices was not a Rouhani administration decision. It was a collective move approved by all top leaders.

Alamolhoda called the protestors "the enemy's agents" and said that 400 people were arrested in Mashhad on the first day of the protests, but 90 percent of them were quickly released and "the 10 percent who were the enemy's agents remain in jail."

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that the price of other commodities have gone up following the rise in the price of gasoline. He said some shopkeepers are selling their goods at a higher price and some bakers have mad bread loaves smaller following the rise in the price of gasoline.

The concerted effort to label protesters enemy agents and accuse them of public property destruction runs through all the structures of the Islamic republic, including the foreign ministry, which told the European Union not to lecture Iran about its treatment of “thugs”.