Iranians Chant 'Our Enemy Is Right Here' on Second Day of Anti-Government Protests After Ukraine Plane Shot Down

Large anti-government demonstrations continued in Iran on Sunday, with protesters chanting slogans against Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), after leaders admitted that the elite branch of the military had mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian International Airlines flight, killing all 176 on board.

"They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here," protesters chanted during the demonstrations, Al Jazeera reported. On Saturday, Iranians had staged similar protests, chanting "death to the dictator," referring to Khamenei.

Iranian students
Iranians students chant slogans as they demonstrate following a tribute for the victims of Ukraine International Airlines flight in front of the Amirkabir University in the capital Tehran, on January 11 ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty

Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 took off from Tehran's airport bound for Kyiv last Wednesday, shortly after the IRGC carried out missile strikes against military bases in Iraq that housed U.S. troops. There were 82 Iranians aboard the flight, as well as 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians – including crew members, four British citizens, four Afghans and three Germans. Some of the passengers were also Iranian with foreign nationalities. According to Iranian officials, a member of the IRGC mistook the plane for a cruise missile.

Iranian demonstrators were particularly outraged by their government's initial decision to lie about the disaster, although the government admittedly knew since last week that the flight had been shot down. Despite the fact that top officials repeatedly said that it was "impossible" for the IRGC to have shot down the aircraft, the secretary of Iran's top national security body, Ali Shamkhani, claimed that leaders never intended to cover up the disaster.

"From the start, there was no intention to conceal the causes of the accident, especially since its nature and technical characteristics...make it virtually impossible to conceal," he said, according to Iran's IRIB news agency.

As the demonstrations continued on Saturday, the government moved to disperse the protesters. "Khamenei enforcers firing teargas to disperse crowds of Iranian protesters gathering at Tehran's Azadi Square," Borzou Daragahi, an international correspondent for The Independent, tweeted on Sunday, sharing a video clip from the demonstration.

Crowds growing near Azadi Square, where just days ago mourners came out to grieve Qassem Suleimani.

— Borzou Daragahi 🖊🗒 (@borzou) January 12, 2020

President Donald Trump and other administration officials voiced support for the Iranian protesters.

"To the leaders of Iran - DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching," Trump tweeted in a post that was also translated to Farsi. "More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!"

In a previous tweet, Trump also claimed he had "stood" with the Iranian people since the beginning of his time in office. But critics quickly noted that the Trump administration had banned Iranians from obtaining visas to travel to the U.S., while also implementing crippling sanctions that have caused the Iranian people to suffer.

"If you love the Iranian people so much, why don't you take them off the Muslim travel ban list," Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour tweeted, sharing a post from the State Department voicing support for the demonstrators.