Popular Demands Not Limited to Economy

The president said access to social media cannot be permanently blocked, reasserting the right of people to the free flow of information
President Hassan Rouhani meets top Economy Ministry officials in Tehran on Jan 8.
President Hassan Rouhani meets top Economy Ministry officials in Tehran on Jan 8.

President Hassan Rouhani highlighted the wide range of demands shouted in recent anti-government demonstrations, dismissing the attempt by his conservative opponents to portray economic hardships, which they blame on the government, as the sole cause of the protests.

"People have economic, cultural, social and security-related demands. All aspects of these demands should be taken into consideration," Rouhani said in a meeting with Masoud Karbasian, the minister of economic affairs and finance, and his deputies in Tehran on Monday, reported.

"It would be a misrepresentation [of events] and also an insult to Iranian people to say they only had economic demands."

Protestors marched in days of demonstrations initially targeting the economic performance of the Rouhani government.

They broke out in the northeastern city of Mashhad on Dec. 28 and soon spread to other cities including, the capital Tehran.

The theme of the protests grew in scope beyond economic demands only hours after their eruption, with marchers beginning to chant slogans against pervasive corruption and other non-economic issues.

There were reports of violence in some cities, claiming about 21 lives.

Pro-government rallies last week marked the end of the already subsiding protests.

Access to popular messaging app Telegram was blocked days after the unrest began, prompting widespread public objections particularly from those who rely on telegram services to run their business.

Rouhani denounced the ban on the use of the social networking website, reasserting the right of people to the free flow of information.

"Any technology is inevitably subject to abuse by some users. Access to technology and its use by the people cannot be permanently blocked," he said.  

While acknowledging the livelihood problems of Iranians, the president slammed state TV and other bodies controlled by rival conservatives for refusing to publicize the economic gains achieved on his watch since he took office in 2013.

"People should be informed of what the government has done in the investment sector since the beginning of its first term and the fact that other countries now have more confidence in Iran."

***Call for Transparency

Rouhani reiterated a call for financial transparency and accountability on the part of all organizations, in a veiled criticism of some state cultural bodies that receive substantial shares of state funds at a time when the government is grappling with a big budget deficit.

"Just like the government, the Majlis and other institutions should also step into glass houses and they should explain to the people about all of their decisions and let the people judge them."

The protests started weeks after Rouhani submitted his proposed budget for the next fiscal year to parliament.

His budget plan became the target of severe public criticism for allocating considerable amounts of funds to organizations that lack financial transparency and never report to the public, amid urgent economic problems increasingly affecting the living standards of people.

To become law, the draft budget has to be passed by the parliament and approved by the Guardians Council, a clerical body that vets any legislation's conformity with Islamic principles and constitutional articles.

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