A video provided by the Associated Press shows demonstrators in Iran being confronted by police, who use tear gas and live ammunition to disrupt the gathering.
Most international news sources place the reason for the protests squarely on the downing of the passenger jet, and the three-day cover-up which followed.
Fox News and other Republican news sources are framing the demonstrations as pro-freedom marches. This is undoubtedly true for some of the demonstrators, but it provides an inaccurate picture; the Hong Kong protesters are seeking Western-style freedom. The bulk of the Iranian protesters are demanding a different government, not necessarily a Western model. The subtleties are important when considering the best ways to encourage the Iranian people toward embracing a responsible human rights-oriented change.
President Trump, for his part, contributed to the misconceptions about the event, repeatedly suggesting that Iran was killing its protesters – something not shown anywhere in the video, nor stated by reporters on the ground – and also by lying about his support during prior Iranian demonstrations.
While video provides audio of shots being fired and shows people reacting to being struck, the relative paucity of victims and the type of complaints from the injured allow for the possibility that the Revolutionary Guard may have been firing into the air or toward the ground in an attempt to disperse the crowd. While that would indicate a reckless disregard for the safety of citizens, Iran has a history of violent oppression of those who speak out against the government.
During most of the recent Iranian protests, President Trump has been silent. As recently as last week, he asserted that the official policy of his administration was not to pursue regime change in Iran, a deviation from both Republican and Democrat administrations in the past (although President Obama in particular had come under fire for not seeming to take that position seriously.)
While Iran has had repeated demonstrations throughout his Presidency, they have only come to a serious head once, during June 25-28 of 2018. Those were the days of a huge general strike across the breadth of the country in protest of the socioeconomic policies of the regime. A quick scan of TNB and Tiff’s daily tweet recap shows no mention of Iran during that time. Simply put, when Trump had the same opportunity to show American support with anti-government demonstrators in Iran that Obama did, he failed in an equally spectacular way. His repeated criticism of Obama in that area is hypocrisy designed to hide his own failings.
Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful Democrat leader, drew fire over the weekend for suggesting that the protests were mostly student-led, indicating a level of dismissal of the idea that people of all ages and social strata were upset with the dictatorial regime. Her position is bolstered by the available video, but does not track with the number of protests in the past which would suggest there is a long-standing undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the sitting government.
For their part, the Iranian government is attempting to avoid the truth as much as possible. They tried to hide their culpability in shooting down the civilian plane for three days after it happened. Now, in the wake of video showing live ammunition being fired to disrupt protests, they are claiming that no live fire was used. Per the BBC, the Police Chief in Tehran is denying gunfire because his officers were told to “show restraint”.