Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned against those “who disrupt economic security”, threatening legal action in response to economic protests that began on Monday over the rial’s collapse.
In a statement published on his official website, Khamenei told judiciary officials that while “the atmosphere for the work, life and livelihood of the people must be secure … the judiciary must confront those who disrupt economic security.”
On Monday, thousands of traders in the Iranian capital’s Grand Bazaar held a rare strike over the rial’s collapse on the foreign exchange market.
The rial’s decreased value is expected to result in an increase in the price of imported goods and push up the inflation rate.
Iran’s currency has plunged almost 50 percent in value in the past six months, with the US dollar now trading at around 78,500 in the black market.
President Hassan Rouhani defended his economic record in a live televised address, saying the government’s income had not shrunk and pinned the blame for Iran’s currency woes on “foreign media propaganda”.
“Even in the worst case, I promise that the basic needs of Iranians will be provided. We have enough sugar, wheat and cooking oil. We have enough foreign currency to inject into the market,” Rouhani said in his speech.
Some 1,300 imported products will be taken off the shelves as the government looks to implement new plans to control rising prices and prepare the economy for a new wave of US sanctions.
“The government’s decision to ban the import of some goods to the country with the goal of protecting Iranian goods is a very big opportunity for domestic producers,” Rouhani was quoted as saying on state media.
President Rouhani’s administration has come under considerable pressure with 187 representatives from Iran’s parliament – more than half of the total – issuing a letter asking that the president change the economic team within his administration.
Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, Iran’s judiciary chief, warned against what he called “economic saboteurs” who could face capital punishment and up to 20 years in jail.
“The enemy is now trying to disrupt our economy through a psychological operation. In recent days, some tried to shut down the Bazaar, but their plot was thwarted by the police,” Sadeq was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.
Tehran’s prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi said some protesters near the bazaar were arrested on Monday and would not be released before going to trial.
‘Economic war and psychological operations’
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran would face the “wrath of the entire world” if it pursued nuclear weapons but added that he hoped his country would not have to resort to a military confrontation.
“It should surprise no one #IranProtests continue. People are tired of the corruption, injustice & incompetence of their leaders. The world hears their voice,” Pompeo said in a tweet.
General Yahya Rahim-Safavi of the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said it was incumbent on Iranians to help their government cope with the economic challenges the country faces.
“It is all of our duty to work together to help the respected government and other governmental branches in solving the economic problems” Yahya was quoted as saying by Fars news.
“We must neutralise the plans of the enemy for an economic war and psychological operations.”
Iran has faced mounting economic troubles since the US pulled out earlier in May from a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers that lifted international sanction in exchange for a scaling back of the Islamic Republic’s atomic programme.