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Protests for greater freedoms continue in Iran

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Iranians have been protesting for more than three months. The demonstrations began after the death of an Iranian Kurdish woman in the custody of the morality police. Iran's government has responded by cracking down on those protests and recently imposed death penalties for some participants including a prominent Iranian doctor. NPR's Peter Kenyon has been following the developments from Istanbul. Peter, thanks for being with us.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: We've seen several waves of intense protests over, I guess, the last 90 days. Does this pace seem to be continuing?

KENYON: The demonstrations are still going on especially in the major cities. One took place this week in Zahedan. That's a city in southeast Iran. Here's a bit of what it sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHANTING)

KENYON: So people are still turning out. But Iranians and analysts say the demonstrations are a bit smaller, a bit less frequent recently. This could be just a lull, or some event might spark a resurgence. It could also suggest to some that the fierce crackdown is finally starting to work. But the counterargument to that is the protesters are still continuing to take to the streets in spite of the violence inflicted by security forces and in spite of the death sentences being handed out by Iranian courts.

SIMON: Peter, what's the government say about the protests?

KENYON: Iranian officials are doubling down on their main contention that this is all being engineered by the U.S. and other, quote, "enemies of Iran." Iran's foreign minister at a regional conference in Jordan said recently that, quote, "irresponsible interventions by the U.S. and Western countries that have themselves been dealing with protests and reacting in the most violent manner continue to try their best to destabilize Iran."

And now, beyond that, Iran has suddenly become a lot more interested in another topic, reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement. Talks in Vienna had stalled when Iran began throwing up objections and demands. And then, the Biden administration basically signaled that concluding this deal and restoring the nuclear deal was unlikely to happen while Iran is beating, imprisoning and killing its own citizens. But now Iran does want to focus attention back on its nuclear program.

SIMON: Peter, there's been an awful lot of international attention and outcry over Iran imposing death penalties on protesters and carrying out two known executions. What do you know about these cases?

KENYON: Well, nearly two dozen people could face a death sentence, say rights groups. I reached one man, Hassan Hassanlou, in the Netherlands. Now, he's the brother of Dr. Hamid Ghareh Hassanlou, who faces execution after being convicted of demonstrating against the regime. Hassan told me he's not surprised because his brother has very strong beliefs. Here's some of what he told me.

HASSAN HASSANLOU: On something that he believes, he would be as stubborn as hell. He was tortured in a way (ph). Four of his ribs was broken. And he had three surgeries so far. And he didn't confess. He didn't confess on something that he didn't do.

KENYON: Hassanlou says he's proud of his brother even though there could be consequences now for his family or his colleagues.

SIMON: Peter, what do you anticipate or look for to see what direction these protests might take next?

KENYON: I think, first, will the protests grow smaller or possibly see a resurgence? Will there be another shift in their demands? Now, this started after the death of a young Kurdish woman in police custody. Then, it morphed into a call to topple the government. Is there another shift in store? So that will also bear watching.

SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul, thanks so much for being with us, Peter.

KENYON: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.