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Antigovernment protests continue in Iran, along with regime's violent crackdown

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

An Iranian court this week handed down the first death sentence to a demonstrator taking part in antigovernment protests that have confronted Iran's regime for two months. Violent suppression efforts by security forces have not stopped protests sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: On Monday, European Union foreign ministers approved the latest round of sanctions against Iran's interior minister and other officials, as well as entities including Iranian media. Here's an excerpt from Press TV, Iran's English-language news channel, on the latest sanctions, as announced by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who repeated the bloc's backing for the demonstrators.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSEP BORRELL: To support them, today the council adopted another 31 listing under the Iran human rights regime.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The channel you are watching now, Press TV, has also been added to the EU sanctions list.

KENYON: It's clear that the pressure is getting Iran's attention. One of the protestors those sanctions are intended to support is Marieh, who lives in northern Iran. Contacted via the internet, she asked that her family name not be used because she fears repercussions for speaking to the foreign media. She says her family got so fed up with the state news channels that they no longer watch television.

MARIEH: (Through interpreter) In the past 50 days, we haven't watched Iranian state TV at all. We disconnected the antenna altogether because they deliver so much nonsense and lies. We can see with our own eyes what is happening on the streets. We have been harassed ourselves as well. And then the news tries to show that there is peace and quiet, flowers and birds everywhere in the country.

KENYON: Marieh says the protests are still going strong, although her family hasn't been joining in lately.

MARIEH: (Through interpreter) Because of multiple injuries in my family members and relatives, it is hard to join street protests for us right now. We all still have scars from previous crackdowns.

KENYON: But she says once they recover, they will be back among the protesters. Iran watchers see a robust protest movement that seems determined to keep pushing against the authorities, the latest effort being general strikes in several parts of Iran. But the regime seems determined to continue with its crackdown. It has ample tools of suppression at its disposal. Rights groups say more than 10,000 people have been arrested; hundreds have reportedly been killed. A few days before a death sentence was handed out to a protester, I spoke with analyst Sanam Vakil at the London-based Chatham House think tank. She said numerous calls by hard-liners for severe punishment of demonstrators suggest that overt international support for the protests may wind up pushing the government to even harsher methods than have been seen to date.

SANAM VAKIL: And so I'm approaching the protest with a degree of caution because the state in Iran still retains a monopoly of the use of force to suppress people, even with violent means which they continue to demonstrate. I don't think the protests have reached a level that they could challenge that state monopoly.

KENYON: Vakil also says while she sees Iranians coming together over issues related to dignity, she has yet to see protesters agree on a common goal for what a future Iran should look like or how it should function. That, she says, is badly needed as demonstrators continue to challenge a regime that shows no sign of giving ground.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.