Top Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami used his Friday prayer sermon to call on judiciary officials to punish protesters "hard" as anti-government demonstrations continued across Iran for a 34th day.
The ongoing wave of public anger has gone unabated since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in hospital on September 16, three days after her arrest for allegedly wearing a hijab, or head scarf, improperly.
The protesters have expressed grievances over social restrictions and political repression in Iran, as well as the country’s decimated economy in the deepest challenges to the clerical establishment since 2019.
At least 215 people, including 27 children, have so far been killed in the government crackdown against the protest movement, according to one human rights organization. Attacks against schoolchildren have caused public outrage in many cities.
Describing the protesters as rioters and traitors, Khatami, Tehran’s hard-line Friday prayer leader, called for the release of those incarcerated "who were deceived and realized that they were fooled…on the condition that they do not repeat [their mistake] again.”
“But those who took money to chant slogans, there is no mercy for them," the cleric added.
Last week, the head of Iran's judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, asked judges around the country to sentence the demonstrations’ "ringleaders" to long term prison terms.
Meanwhile, workers in the petrochemical industry, a key sector of Iran’s economy, continued their strike, while students took to the streets chanting anti-government slogans.
The Iranian authorities have imposed Internet restrictions in an attempt to disrupt rallies and prevent images of the crackdown from circulating.
But protesters have found ways to get their message across and to share footage of the protest movement with the world.
The "Youths of Tehran's Neighborhoods" group has called on Iranians living abroad to gather in Berlin on Saturday, October 22, to voice support for the protests at home.
As many as 50,000 people have registered to attend the rally under the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom", according to German police.
Also, the Tehran youth group expressed support for a call by members of the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims for the Group of Seven industrialized countries to expel Iranian ambassadors.
The passenger flight PS752 was shot down in Iran in January 2020 by missiles fired by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
"We need to remember that the regime of the Islamic Republic is not representing the people of Iran”, the youth group said, adding that governments across the world should expel “ambassadors and mercenaries of the regime” from Iranian embassies, which it described as “nests of corruption and terror”.
Iran has witnessed waves of anti-government protests in recent years. In November 2019, hundreds of people were reportedly killed in the government crackdown against protests triggered by gas price hikes -- the deadliest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.