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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Rouhani acknowledges Iranian discontent as protests continue” was written by Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent, for The Guardian on Sunday 31st December 2017 19.09 UTC

Iranian authorities have threatened a crackdown against protesters and scrambled to block social media apps allegedly used to incite unrest as the biggest demonstrations in nearly a decade continued for a fourth day.

People across Iran took to the streets again on Sunday evening in defiance of a heavy presence of riot police and state warnings to stay away.

The demonstrations began over economic grievances on Thursday but have since taken on a political dimension, with unprecedented calls for the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to step down.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, in his first comments about the protests, aired on national television on Sunday night, said “people have the right to criticise”, but said the authorities would not tolerate antisocial behaviour. He said criticism was “different from violence and destroying public properties”.

Officials said they arrested at least 200 people during demonstrations in central Tehran on Saturday. It was not clear how many were arrested in the provinces, which saw protests on a bigger scale than the capital. Two protesters were killed in western Iran on Saturday.

The protests are the biggest in Iran since 2009, when demonstrators called for the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president after what they regarded as his fraudulent re-election.

Videos posted on social media from Saturday night in Tehran showed protesters taking down large banners depicting the ayatollah’s image, in acts of resistance rarely seen since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

One video showed demonstrators taking down an image of the leader of Iran’s powerful Quds force, Qassem Suleimani, who is spearheading Iran’s involvement in regional affairs, particularly the war in Syria.

Rouhani, urging the nation to be vigilant, acknowledged that people were unhappy about the state of economy, corruption and a lack of transparency. “People are allowed under the constitution to criticise or even protest but […] in a way that at the end they lead to a better situation in the country for the people,” he said.

Condemning the US president, Donald Trump, who has voiced support for the protests, Rouhani said: “This gentleman who today sympathises with our people has forgotten that a few months ago he called us a terrorist nation. The one who has opposed the Iranian nation from his head to his toe has no right to express sympathy for people of Iran.”

On Sunday Trump tweeted that “people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism”, adding that the US was “watching very closely for human rights violations”.

Earlier in the day, Iran’s interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazil, said authorities would not tolerate the “spreading of violence, fear and terror”, which he said would “definitely be confronted”.

“Those who damage public property, disrupt order, people’s security and break the law must be responsible for their behaviour and should answer and pay the price,” he said, according to the website of the state broadcaster Irib.

The broadcaster said authorities had blocked Instagram and the messaging app Telegram, which is the most popular social networking platform in Iran, citing an anonymous source who said the move was “in line with maintaining peace and security of the citizens”. Authorities said the filtering was temporary.

It’s hard to overstate the power of Telegram in Iran. Of its 80m population, an estimated 40m use the free app created by Russian national Pavel Durov. Its clients share videos and photos, subscribing to groups where everyone from politicians to poets broadcast to fellow users.

While authorities ban social media websites like Facebook and Twitter and censor others, Telegram users can say nearly anything. In the last presidential election, the app played a big role in motivating turnout and spreading political screeds.

Telegram touts itself as being highly encrypted and allows users to set their messages to “self-destruct” after a certain period, making it a favourite among activists and others concerned about their privacy. That too has made it a worry of Iranian authorities.

A channel run by an exiled journalist, Roohallah Zam, helped organise some of those who took to the street, including times and locations for protests, and was suspended by Durov after Iranian authorities complained that it was inciting violence.

Zam, who denies the allegations, responded by launching new channels to spread messages about upcoming protests before the government ordered the app shut down. 

Telegram’s CEO, Pavel Durov, said it had blocked access to the popular Amadnews channel after it had “started to instruct their subscribers to use Molotov cocktails against police”.

A source in Iran told the Guardian the state had started blocking access to Telegram, but it was not covering all provinces yet.

Authorities said two protesters were killed in the western province of Lorestan on Saturday, but denied it was the result of clashes between demonstrators and riot police.

The deputy governor for Lorestan, Habibollah Khojastehpour, said police and security guards had not opened fire, and instead blamed “Takfiri groups” – Iran’s term for Sunni extremists – and foreign intelligence services. “Unfortunately in these clashes two citizens from [the city of] Doroud were killed,” he said.

Iran protests new version

Many senior figures within the reformist camp and the opposition Green movement remain perplexed as to how to respond to the current wave of unrest. The sharp nature of some of the slogans, which have challenged the foundations of the Islamic republic, has left them mute.

There have been anti-Khamenei chants such as “Death to the dictator” and slogans opposing Iran’s regional policy, including “Let go of Syria, think about us” and “I give my life for Iran, not Gaza, not Lebanon”.

There were also nostalgic slogans in support of the monarchy and the late shah, as well as some with a nationalistic nature, including “We are of Aryaee [Aryan] race, we don’t worship Arabs.” Relatively fewer chants were heard in support of two opposition leaders under house arrest, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

Some videos showed protesters apparently setting bins on fire and trying to break into government buildings. The semi-official Tasnim news, which is close to the elite Revolutionary Guards, published a photo that it said showed a protester setting fire to the Iranian flag. There were chants of “Death to the Revolutionary Guards” in at least one city.

Many Iranians are sceptical about how the protests have spread so quickly. One prominent senior reformist commentator, Hamidreza Jalaipour, said reformists were opposed to protests instigated by “advocates of regime change”, implying that the new wave of protests was not spontaneous.

A protester from Tehran University told the Guardian by phone that although students were puzzled about how the protests were organised and spreading so quickly, they were not “getting leads from anyone”.

Ali Vaez, Iran project director at International Crisis Group, called the protests “an explosion of the Iranian people’s pent-up frustrations over economic and political stagnation”, but he said: “This is neither a revolution nor a movement.”

Vaez said: “Given its lack of leadership, organisation and mission, it is likely to peter out or will be quelled. The Rouhani administration has two options: it can follow the example of its predecessors ([Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani after the protests of the early 1990s and [Mohammad] Khatami after the 1999 student uprising) and opt for a more cautious path, or capitalise on public discontent to push the system towards more genuine reforms. That choice will ultimately determine the Islamic Republic’s fate.”

Iranian conservatives, while acknowledging ordinary people were protesting for what they said were mainly economic reasons, accused foreign powers of inciting violence and exploiting the situation.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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US Supreme Court Upholds Abortion Clinic Protest Zone Limits In Chicago, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday left in place policies in Chicago and Pennsylvania’s capital Harrisburg that place limits on anti-abortion activists gathered outside abortion clinics.

The justices declined to hear two appeals by anti-abortion groups and individual activists of lower court rulings upholding the cities’ ordinances.

The Chicago policy bars activists from coming within eight feet (2.4 meters) of someone within 50 feet (15 meters) of any healthcare facility without their consent if they intend to protest, offer counseling or hand out leaflets. The Harrisburg measure bars people from congregating or demonstrating within 20 feet (6 meters) of a healthcare facility’s entrance or exit.

Both cases pitted the free speech rights of anti-abortion protesters against public safety concerns raised by women’s healthcare providers regarding demonstrations outside clinics. There is a history of violent acts committed against abortion providers.

At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the ordinances violate free speech rights protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the Chicago ordinance, which was introduced in 2009. The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Harrisburg in 2019. That measure was enacted in response to disruptions by protesters outside two abortion clinics in the city.

The cases did not directly implicate abortion rights. In a major ruling on Monday, the struck down a Louisiana law placing restrictions on doctors that perform abortions.

Also on Thursday, the court directed a lower court to reconsider the legality of two Indiana abortion restrictions – one that would require women to undergo an ultrasound procedure at least 18 hours before terminating a pregnancy and another that would expand parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion. The lower court had struck down both measures.

Abortion remains a divisive issue in the United States. The Supreme Court in its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalized abortion nationwide, finding that women have a constitutional right to the procedure. In recent years, numerous Republican-governed states have sought to impose a series of restrictions on abortion.

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Federal Judge Reverses Trump Asylum Policy Due To Government Failing To Abide By Administrative Procedure Act

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(Law & Crime) — A federal judge appointed by President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening overturned the Trump Administration’s second and most restrictive asylum policy, all because the government failed to abide by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the judge reasoned.

In a 52-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly of Washington, D.C. held that in enacting the rule, which required immigrants to seek asylum in any country they passed through before they could claim asylum in the U.S., the Trump administration “unlawfully dispensed” with mandatory procedural requirements allowing the public to weigh in on proposed rule changes.

Kelly, who was appointed to the court in 2017, rejected the Trump administration’s assertion that the asylum rule fell within exceptions to the APA permitting the government to disregard the notice-and-comment requirement if there’s “good cause” such commentary is unnecessary or if the rule involves a military or foreign affairs function.

“[The court] also holds that Defendants unlawfully promulgated the rule without complying with the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements, because neither the ‘good cause’ nor the ‘foreign affairs function’ exceptions are satisfied on the record here,” Kelly wrote. “Despite their potentially broad sweep, the D.C. Circuit has instructed that these exceptions must be ‘narrowly construed’ and ‘reluctantly countenanced.’ The Circuit has also emphasized that the broader a rule’s reach, ‘the greater the necessity for public comment.’ With these baseline principles in mind, the Court considers whether either the good cause or foreign affairs function exception applies here. Neither does.”

According to Kelly, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) generally allows any person physically in the U.S. seeking refuge to apply for asylum — with some exceptions for immigrants who have committed certain crimes or who had previously been “firmly resettled” prior to arriving in the U.S.

“The Court reiterates that there are many circumstances in which courts appropriately defer to the national security judgments of the Executive. But determining the scope of an APA exception is not one of them,” Kelly wrote. “As noted above, if engaging in notice-and-comment rulemaking before implementing the rule would have harmed ongoing international negotiations, Defendants could have argued that these effects gave them good cause to forgo these procedures. And they could have provided an adequate factual record to support those predictive judgments to which the Court could defer. But they did not do so.”

Claudia Cubas, the Litigation Director at CAIR Coalition, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, praised the decision as removing an “unjust barrier to protection” for those in need.

“By striking down this rule, Judge Kelly reaffirmed two fundamental principles. The protection of asylum seekers fleeing for safety is intertwined with our national values and that the United States is a country where the rule of law cannot be tossed aside for political whims,” Cubas said.

Read the full opinion below:

Asylum Ban Decision by Law&Crime on Scribd

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US Supreme Court Rules Public Funds Allowed For Religious Schools In State Tax Credit Program

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USA Today writes:

The Supreme Court delivered a major victory Tuesday to parents seeking state aid for their children’s religious school education. The court’s conservative majority ruled that states offering scholarships to students in private schools cannot exclude religious schools from such programs.

The decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who has joined the liberal justices in three other major rulings this month. It was a decision long sought by proponents of school choice and vehemently opposed by teachers’ unions, who fear it could drain needed tax dollars from struggling public schools.

Read the US Supreme Court ruling here or below.

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