While the British government struggled to control the rioters in London and elsewhere, Iranian officials – including President Ahmadinejad – didn’t just sit back and watch. They scoffed, sneered, lectured and jeered at the British, threatening to cut diplomatic ties over the crackdown on the rioters and called for Prime Minister Cameron to be tried for war crimes.
And so as Britain and the rest of the world looked on in horror at the riots, Iran watchers found themselves somewhat amused at statements coming from Iran. And contrary to previous thought, it wasn’t just the Iranian diplomats having a summer of fun at British expense.
Cameron called the looting and burning during the riots “criminality, pure and simple,” but Ahmadinejad recognized those on the streets as “the opposition” and called the police crackdown on the rioters “unacceptable.” (Syndigate.info)
“What kind of country treats its own people like that?” he asked. (BBC Monitoring)
The he answered his own question – Britain’s past colonialism and its present capitalism are to blame – and advised the British government:
“Finally, they should pay attention to the fact that the world has changed and it is no longer possible for some capitalist families through their names and titles to plunder other governments and nations and use other people as their slaves.” (BBC Monitoring)
He also sharply criticized the Western countries for being disingenuous and singled out the U.N. for failing to notice the “savageness” of the police crackdown during the riots. (Reuters)
“If one percent of the events that have happened in the West had happened in countries opposing the West, their [Westerners’] throats would have burst open [from screaming about it], but the question is: Why is the [U.N.] Security Council silent and not showing any reaction?” (BBC Monitoring)
Ahmadinejad was hinting in part at the widespread international condemnation of Iran’s crackdown on opposition protests in Tehran and elsewhere against fraud during the presidential elections of 2009. Thousands were arrested, many were beaten and some were put on trial; several died in the violence during the protests.
Statements like these — accusatory, inflammatory and sometimes factually incorrect — aren’t uncommon in Iran, and most of them are meant for domestic consumption. Here’s a sampling of remarks made by Iran’s powerful elite and echoed in state media.
– Amin Husain Rahimi, member of the Iranian parliament’s Judiciary and Law Commission, criticized the U.N. and other international rights organs – including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Islamic Human rights Commission – for failing to take notice of Britain’s “human rights violations” in London. (BBC Monitoring)
– Deputy Chairman of parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Mohammad-Karim Abedi went a step further and urged the U.N. Security Council to try the British prime minister for “war crimes” for his crackdown on the rioters.
“If the Security Council does not put David Cameron’s trial as a war criminal on its agenda and does not meet this demand of the British nation, [then other member] nations’ views of this council will definitely change more than ever before,” he said. (Press TV)
Note that he managed to paint Cameron’s prosecution as a “demand of the British nation.”
– Another M.P. resolved that Iran would work to release the rioters arrested by the police, calling them “political prisoners.” “Iran will use all of its potentials to stop the repression of the disadvantaged in the U.K. and [to secure] the release of political prisoners,” Fars News Agency quoted Chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission Zohreh Elahian. (Press TV)
She asked that the U.K. make the necessary preparations for the Iranian parliament’s human rights observers to visit the country.
– Mahmud Ahmadi Bighash, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy committee, threatened that Iran was “seriously considering” closing its embassy in the U.K. He asked the Foreign Ministry to summon the U.K. charge d’affaires in Tehran to explain the shooting of Mark Duggan, the black man whose killing sparked the protests that ultimately turned into riots. (Press TV)
– Deputy Speaker Hasan Abutorabi Fard said that it was the British government’s “corruption” that had provoked the protests. “Moral, political and economic corruption of the British ruling system is the root cause of the popular awakening in Britain,” he said. (Fars News Agency)
– Earlier, M.P. Ali-Reza Salimi had said that the London riots proved right the Supreme Leader’s prediction that unrest would spread across Europe. “The Supreme Leader had informed in his remarks in May that popular uprisings would happen in Europe, and today the prediction has come true, and we are witnessing massive popular protests in the very heart of Europe, ” he said (Fars News Agency)
Other politicians went beyond the told-you-so statements and warned European governments of more impending protests:
– “This situation will definitely take place in other countries, because the people do no completely approve of their rulers, and, in many countries, the people do not want their governments,” said M.P. Kazem Farahmand. (Press TV) “Because on the one hand, there is dictatorship and, on the other, the people’s demands are ignored,” ISNA further quoted him as saying.
Farahmand drew a parallel between protests across the Arab world and the riots in London, pointing out that they were both rooted in popular discontent with the governments. He made no mention of the Green Movement’s widespread anti-government protests within Iran.
– Tehran’s interim prayer leader Hojjatoleslam Kazem Seddiqi attributed the riots to Britain’s colonial past, highlighting them as a sign of the West’s demise. (Fars News Agency) Although a religious cleric, his position is very political, owing to the rousing Friday sermons he delivers or allows the country’s top political figures to make from his pulpit.
– Another M.P. had earlier branded the riots as an “all-out crisis” and accused the U.K. of violating protestors’ human rights. In his comments, he also accused the U.S. and other European countries for making hollow remarks on human rights. “The current situation in Britain shows the complete violation of human rights and nullifies all claims that the U.K., Europe and the U.S. have made so far,” said Chairman of National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Alaeddin Borujerdi. (Press TV)
He added that despite claims from the U.K. and other European countries about protecting minority rights and popular freedoms, “today we see that they did not tolerate the slightest amount of popular protests and attacked people brutally, killed some people with firearms and imprisoned others.” (Press TV)
While riots that turned violent caused death and injury to some citizens and officials – including policemen and firefighters – there were no reports of the police killing rioters or protestors, as Borujerdi claims.
“Measures taken by the British government indicate that there is neither democracy nor respect for human rights in England,” Mehr News Agency quoted Borujerdi as saying.
– Echoing the same concerns about safety, another senior lawmaker said London was unsafe for next year’s Olympics. “The issue of London hosting the 2012 Olympics should be subjected to further and closer examination due to the fierce clashes … in the country,” Fars News Agency quoted M.P. Husain Garrousi of the Majlis’ Sports Committee as saying.
He didn’t say whether Iranian athletes would be barred from competing in London due to safety concerns, but he said there were several Asian countries that could successfully host the games instead.
– Although many countries have cautioned their citizens to be mindful of their surroundings as they travel to the U.K., Iran warned its citizens against visiting the country altogether, citing safety concerns. (Mehr News Agency)
The warning came as Iran reached an agreement to deepen tourism cooperation with Syria, which has been facing months of popular protests against the government. The demonstrations have often turned violent and the Syrian government has been condemned by the international community for using force to deal with the demonstrators. A number of Syrian opposition protestors and innocent children have lost their lives in clashes with police and pro-government protestors.
– Not to be outdone, some Iranian media outlets also sharply criticized the British handling of the riots.
The conservative news website Tabnak reported that the British charge d’affaires in Tehran had issued a statement on the embassy’s website urging Iranians not to cancel their travel plans to the U.K. “It is worth mentioning that in the introduction of this article [on the embassy website], like all other U.K. officials, the charge d’affaires has not mentioned the violence committed by the police and the killing of a person, which has caused all of the incidents,” the report read. (BBC Monitoring)
– On the fifth day of protests, another conservative newspaper, Javan, ran a front-page headline on a picture of the protests that read, “Britain’s throat in the claws of the oppressed rebels.” The picture, which showed the British police confronting a crowd of protestors, is captioned as, “The iron fist of the army prepares to suppress protestors all over the U.K.” (BBC Monitoring)
– The commander of the Basij forces, Brigadier-General Muhammad Reza Naqdi, accused the U.K. of “strict news censorship,” adding that what is covered in the media is only part of the reality – including “many humanitarian disasters” – that goes unreported in Britain. (Fars News Agency)
– But some independent Iranian websites had a different opinion about the riots. The content-sharing website, Balatarin, carried a video clip of rioters apparently robbing a man who had just been beaten.
The video’s caption, from a user named Metalboys, read, “Judge for yourself: The Islamic Republic supports these thieves and rioters; the Iranian government supports these kinds of people who rob injured people.” (BBC Monitoring)