Many killed in Iran anti-government protests Trump tweets

President Trump took to Twitter to criticize the Iranian government's efforts to limit access to social media.

(CNN) — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed the country Sunday night after several days of anti-government protests that have rocked the nation.

Rouhani’s remarks came after the state-run media outlet IRIB reported that Iranian officials had temporarily restricted access to social media apps Instagram and Telegram, which have been used by Iranians to share news about the protests.

“We are a free nation,” Rouhani said in his prerecorded speech on state broadcaster IRINN. “And according to the constitution and citizen rights, the people are free to express their criticism and even their protests,” he said.

“But,” Rouhani continued, “criticism should not be accompanied with violence or vandalizing public property.” Rouhani also acknowledged the economic and social hardships some Iranians face.

The demonstrations, which have erupted against a backdrop of rising food and gasoline prices, began Thursday in the northeastern city of Mashhad before spreading to other cities. Those included Tehran, Kermanshah, Arak, Qazvin, Khorramabad, Karaj and Sabzevar, according to state-run media outlet IRNA, which cited First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri.

Protests were ongoing Sunday, the fourth day of demonstrations, according to videos circulating on social media that originated in Tehran and other parts of the country.

Earlier on Sunday, the Iranian Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli issued a stern warning that protesters who cause public disorder would “pay the price” after the demonstrations reportedly turned deadly.

“The events and occurrences of the last few days have preoccupied, saddened and hurt our beloved people,” semi-official news agency ILNA quoted Fazli as saying, before adding “those who destroy public properties, create chaos, lawlessness and insecurity in our society, will be held legally responsible and must answer for their behaviors and pay the price for it.”

Social media has been a tool for protesters
Social media has been a vital resource for Iranians participating in the protests — described as the largest public display of dissent in Iran since the 2009 Green Movement.

While independent media coverage from inside the country has been limited, protesters have taken to apps like Telegram, which offers public channels for users in addition to encrypted messaging, to share information and videos of protests and clashes. Official media outlets have provided few details about the ongoing demonstrations.

Earlier on Sunday, Interior Minister Fazli said the misuse of social networks by some individuals was “causing violence and fear,” and that “such behavior will be smashed,” according to IRNA.

Telegram’s CEO had previously tweeted that Iranian authorities had blocked access to Telegram for “the majority of Iranians” after the company refused to shut down peaceful protesting channels.

Protests turn deadly
Two people were killed Saturday during protests in Doroud city, in the Lorestan province of western Iran, according to semi-official news agency Mehr News.

On Sunday, Mehr News quoted Habibollah Khojastehpour, the deputy governor of Lorestan, as confirming the deaths but denying security forces were to blame.

Several videos circulated on social media showed various people apparently injured during protests in the city. The videos purportedly showed injured people lying on the ground and being carried away from the protest, as well as being treated in a local hospital. In some of the video, gunshots can be heard.

CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the video.

One local source told CNN on Saturday that during protests in the city, his family witnessed a mob storming the governor’s office and setting it on fire. Protesters were fired upon and five people were shot, the source said.

According to Mehr, Khojastehpour said fire was not directed toward or into the crowds by the military, security or police forces.

“Clashes occurred with individuals who had taken to the streets, heeding calls by the enemies of the system,” Khojastehpour is quoted as saying. “The objective was to conclude this gathering peacefully but given the presence of the aforementioned individuals and groups, this tragedy unfortunately occurred that resulted in the killing of two individuals who were present at the clashes.”

‘Death to the dictator’
In a rare display of public dissent, some protesters directed their ire at Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to some videos on social media. CNN has not independently verified the authenticity of the footage.

In another video also circulating on social media, Iranians can be overheard chanting “We don’t want an Islamic Republic” and “Death to the dictator.” The video purports to show demonstrators in the western city of Khorramabad.

In addition to these anti-government slogans, chants of “Death to the Revolutionary Guards” can also be heard in another video posted on social media.

CNN is unable to independently verify the authenticity of those videos.

One resident told CNN of witnessing a protester tearing down a poster of Khamenei near Tehran University on Saturday.

In Tehran, protesters have been temporarily arrested for participating in “illegal demonstrations,” according to Mohsen Hamadani, Tehran deputy governor in charge of security affairs, as reported by semi-official ILNA.

About 200 people were arrested between Revolution Square and Valiasr Square in Tehran on Saturday, ILNA reported, for “attempting to destroy public property and attack police,” according to Ali Azghar Nasserbakt, the deputy commander of Tehran Security. Some have been released, he said, though he didn’t provide a specific number.

On Saturday, 80 people were detained in the nearby city of Arak, according to a government official, as reported by Mehr News Agency.

“A number of individuals intended to enter into and damage government locations,” the government official, who was not identified by Mehr, is quoted as saying. The official added that protesters were not able to enter the government buildings, “and the city is under control.”

Mehr added that at least three people were lightly injured.

US-Iran war of words
President Donald Trump has voiced his support for anti-government protesters in several tweets throughout the weekend, sparking a war of words with the Iranian government.

“Iran, the Number One State of Sponsored Terror with numerous violations of Human Rights occurring on an hourly basis, has now closed down the Internet so that peaceful demonstrators cannot communicate,” he wrote late Sunday. “Not good!”

Contrary to the President’s tweet, Iran has not “closed down the Internet,” though it has restricted Iranian’s access to some social media.

On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi pushed back against earlier US comments, saying the Iranian people gave no credence to such “opportunistic” remarks by Trump or his administration.

Iranian officials have pointed to foreign intervention as being behind the protests.

During Sunday’s televised remarks, Rouhani accused Trump of creating problems for Iranians, saying he had “always been acting against the people from the first day he entered the White House.”

“He has been constantly creating problems for us, nonstop and continuously for the Iranian nation,” he said.

Relations between Washington and Tehran have long been tense, with the Trump administration critical of what it sees as Iran’s growing regional influence and alleged involvement in conflicts including Yemen and Syria.

Rouhani won a landslide re-election in May after campaigning largely on social reform. His campaign touted the merits of the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States, the European Union and other partners, a deal rejected by Trump.

President Donald Trump on Monday morning took to Twitter to tweet about the deadly protests in Iran, calling for change to an autocratic system there that he says is rife with repression and corruption.

“Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration,” Trump wrote. “The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted support for Trump’s message later Monday morning.

“As long as @RealDonaldTrump is POTUS and I am VP, the United States of America will not repeat the shameful mistake of our past when others stood by and ignored the heroic resistance of the Iranian people as they fought against their brutal regime … (1/2)” Pence wrote. “(2/2) … The bold and growing resistance of the Iranian people today gives hope and faith to all who struggle for freedom and against tyranny. We must not and we will not let them down. #IranProtests”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded Monday, saying Trump has no right to sympathize with Iran because he has called the Iranian people “terrorists,” according to Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency.

Rouhani made the comments in a meeting with lawmakers. On Sunday, state television broadcast Rouhani saying that Trump is “constantly creating problems” for Iranians, including with regard to visas and financial issues.

The leaders’ tit-for-tat follows a weekend of escalating rhetoric in response to the protests and violence in Iran, with Trump warning Sunday that the United States is watching Tehran’s treatment of protesters for human rights violations after anti-government protests turned deadly.

“Big protests in Iran,” Trump tweeted. “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”

Trump also took to Twitter later Sunday to criticize the Iranian government’s efforts to limit access to social media.

“Iran, the Number One State of Sponsored Terror with numerous violations of Human Rights occurring on an hourly basis, has now closed down the Internet so that peaceful demonstrators cannot communicate. Not good!” Trump tweeted. The White House press office followed this with a statement saying the administration supports the right of the Iranian people to peaceful expression.

“Their voices deserve to be heard,” the statement read. “We encourage all parties to protect this fundamental right to peaceful expression and to avoid any actions that contribute to censorship.”

Earlier in the day, the Iranian government issued a stern warning that protesters will “pay the price” for their actions, with Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli saying that what he categorized as the misuse of social networks by some individuals “are causing violence and fear” and that “such behavior will be smashed,” according to IRNA. Iran’s official news agency.

Iran’s government on Saturday warned its citizens against holding “illegal” public gatherings, following two days of rare anti-government protests that spread to a number of cities.

The protests — described as the largest public display of discontent since the 2009 Green Movement in Iran — have emerged against a backdrop of rising food and gasoline prices.

The unrest has prompted verbal sparring between Iran and the United States, with the White House and Trump on Friday urging Tehran to respect protesters’ rights.

“There are many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with the regime’s corruption and its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. “The Iranian government should respect their people’s rights, including their right to express themselves. The world is watching.”

Trump subsequently tweeted the same message.

In a pair of tweets on Saturday, Trump again addressed the protests, writing: “The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most….”

Trump continued: “Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever, and the day will come when the Iranian people will face a choice. The world is watching!”

In the Saturday tweets, Trump posted videos of a speech he gave to the United Nations in September, in which he said, “The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change.”

Trump campaigned for president with a hard-line stance on Iran, calling the country the “No. 1 terror state” during a debate with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As President, he has tried to keep that hard-line stance and announced earlier this year that he plans to decertify the Iran nuclear agreement and push Congress to a new plan to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.

By weighing in on the protests, though, Trump is wading into a tricky issue that has befuddled presidents ever since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 ended relations between Washington and Tehran.

Former President Barack Obama’s response to protests in Iran in 2009 was timid initially, but grew more forceful. Although those protests eventually fizzled, Obama looked to deal with Iran by minting the nuclear agreement that Trump has tried to scrap.

Obama also looked to rekindle direct talks between Iran and the United States, including in 2013, when he became the first US president to speak with an Iranian president — Hassan Rouhani in this case — since 1979.

Former President George W. Bush dealt with Iran more forcefully, but to mixed results, labeling the country in 2002 as part of an “axis of evil” that included Iraq and North Korea. Bush’s stance was the result of a softer approach taken by former President Bill Clinton, who worked at length to foster relations with former President Mohammad Khatami.

The difficult issue that American presidents have had to confront is how to support anti-government protests in Iran without dooming those same demonstrations by allowing Tehran to paint them as closely aligned with the United States, an allegation seen in Iran as a slight.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, said the protests show that Obama’s policies failed the region.

“The people are not getting the benefit of sanctions relief,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “They are more upset with their oppressors than ever. The money from sanctions relief is going to rebuilding the Iranian military and is destabilizing the Middle East.”

Graham also said Trump needs to do more to help the region.

“It’s not enough to watch,” Graham said. “President Trump is tweeting very sympathetically to the Iranian people. But you just can’t tweet here. You have to lay out a plan.”

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney praised the protests in Iran, calling the protesters “heroes” in a tweet Sunday.

“Profoundly moving to watch those seeking freedom in Iran,” Romney tweeted. “Patriots afar remind us of the patriots who won our own freedom and also those who preserve it. Heroes all.”

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a statement that her hopes and prayers are with “the long-repressed Iranian people,” who “are now finding their voice.”

“The Iranian government is being tested by its own citizens,” she said in the statement. “We pray that freedom and human rights will carry the day.”

Longtime diplomat and Obama National Security Council official Dennis Ross told CNN’s Boris Sanchez on Monday that he thinks the Trump approach, speaking out in support of Iranian protesters, strikes the right tone.

Ross said the Obama administration initially received messages from those in the Green Movement in Iran to “keep it cool” in order to prevent Tehran from claiming the unrest was foreign-inspired.

“And I think in retrospect, we made a mistake,” he said. “I think we should have made it clear that, in fact, the world was watching.”