Iran Protesters Burn Billboard of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Amid Escalating Violence

November 19, 2019 Updated: November 19, 2019

Protesters in the Iranian city of Isfahan set fire to a billboard of Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Monday, Iran International reported.

It comes amid growing tensions within the country after the government announced a hike of 50 percent in gasoline prices in an effort to redistribute money to the country’s neediest citizens.

In a video shared on Twitter by the Persian TV station, people can be seen watching on as the billboard is set alight shortly after the Iranian government announced the news on Nov. 15.

The price hike was agreed by the High Council of Economic Coordination, which consists of President Hassan Rouhani, the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, and the parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani.

According to the decision, the price of petrol will rise to $0.49 per gallon while vehicles for private use will be restricted to 16 gallons of fuel monthly. Any fuel purchases in excess of this limit will incur an additional charge of $0.98 per gallon.

On Nov. 17, Khamenei publicly backed the government’s decision to increase gasoline prices and blamed opponents of the Islamic Republic and foreign enemies for “sabotage.”

During a live speech on state TV, the supreme leader branded those setting fire to public property as “bandits” backed by the enemies of Iran.

“Some people are no doubt worried by this decision … but sabotage and arson is done by hooligans, not our people. The counter-revolution and Iran’s enemies have always supported sabotage and breaches of security and continue to do so,” he said, according to state TV.

Khamenei said the hike in petrol prices was based on expert opinion and should be supported, although admitted that he himself was not an “expert” on the matter.

“I am not an expert, and there are different opinions, but I had said that if the heads of the three branches make a decision, I will support it,” he was quoted as saying before calling on officials to prevent a hike in the price of other goods.

Meanwhile, government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference in Tehran that the protest situation was “calmer,” but there were still “some minor issues and tomorrow and the day after we won’t have any issues with regard to riots.”

The government announced that 12 people have been killed since protests erupted in the country on Friday, although opposition website Radio Farda reports that the number is closer to 40.

On Monday, Amnesty International said that the protests, although triggered by the increased gas prices, were also due to the Iranian people being “sick and tired of all of the corruption and fanatic ideology” and wanting “a change.”

Also on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is closely monitoring the protests in Iran and strongly condemns “any acts of violence committed by this regime against the Iranian people,” before calling for the Islamic Republic to cease using violence against its people.

“The Iranian people will enjoy a better future when their government begins to respect basic human rights, abandons its revolutionary posture and its destabilizing foreign policy in the region, and behaves simply like a normal nation,” he said.

Pompeo also announced that the United States is ending a sanctions waiver for civil-nuclear work at a site where Iran recently announced it was enriching uranium, effective Dec. 15, 2019.

“The right amount of uranium enrichment for the world’s largest state sponsor of terror is zero. Iran originally constructed Fordow as a fortified underground bunker to conduct secret uranium enrichment work, and there is no legitimate reason for Iran to resume enrichment at this previously clandestine site,” he said.

It is one of four sanctions waivers that were settled during a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, which enabled foreign firms to cooperate with Iran’s civilian nuclear program without penalties.

The 2015 deal also saw Tehran pledge to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for international sanctions relief. However, President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal—made by his predecessor Barack Obama—last year, saying it failed to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and its role in regional wars.