Speaking at a news conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Iranian leader Ebrahim Raisi told reporters that Iranians were guaranteed freedom of expression but warned them to cease “acts of chaos”—a reference to ongoing anti-government protests following the death of Mahsa Amini shortly after her arrest by the country’s religious police.
“Issues of rights must be considered all around the world with a single standard,” the Iranian president said during the conference, according to Reuters. “There is freedom of expression in Iran … but acts of chaos are unacceptable.”
The Iranian leader added that the government was conducting a probe into Amini’s death. Previous statements by the religious police claimed that she had suffered a heart attack shortly after her arrest, leading them to transfer her to a hospital, where she died three days later. Many Iranians, including Amini’s parents, have rejected this explanation, claiming instead that she had been severely beaten during her detention.
Amini’s initial detention came after she failed to wear a hijab in accordance with the Iranian government’s religious guidelines—a focal point for discontent among many Iranians. In the demonstrations that followed, hundreds of Iranian women were recorded burning their hijabs, and videos of street clashes between demonstrators, police, and the country’s Basij pro-government militia circulated widely on social media. The online nature of the protests led the Iranian authorities to institute a total internet blackout across the country, a step previously used to quell similar protests over the past half-decade.
So far, Iranian authorities have largely avoided commenting on the protests. The country’s supreme leader, eighty-six-year-old Ali Khamenei, made no reference to them during his first public appearance in weeks following concerns that his health had deteriorated. Prior to his comments at the General Assembly, Raisi had offered only a short statement posted on Twitter, in which the Iranian president said that Amini “is like my daughter and I feel that this incident happened to one of my loved ones.” Iran’s Intelligence Ministry also warned on Thursday that the ongoing protests were illegal and demonstrators would be prosecuted if caught.
“Considering the exploitation of recent incidents by counter-revolutionary movements, any presence and participation in such illegal gatherings … will result in judicial prosecution,” the Intelligence Ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.