The members of the Basij, the volunteer paramilitary wing of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, are being praised by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for their efforts in quashing protests. He praised the Basij forces during a televised address on Saturday as dozens of eye doctors warned that there are a rising number of protesters who are being blinded by the violent forces as they break up anti-government protests.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lodged unsubstantiated accusations that the protesters are “tools” of the U.S. and its “mercenaries” during his address.

“(The) Basij should not forget that the main clash is with global hegemony,” Khamenei said, referring to the U.S. The address marking Basij week in Iran echoed previous statements lambasting the protests as a foreign plot to destabilize Iran.

Extolling the military and social virtues of the Basij over the decades, Khamenei said the forces “sacrificed themselves in order to save people from a bunch of rioters and mercenaries,” referring to the recent country-wide unrest. “They sacrificed themselves in order to confront oppression.”

Since September 17, Iranian women have taken to the streets to protest the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, in Tehran. She died in custody of Iran’s morality police. The Basij have brutality attacked protesters to discourage the protests from continuing. The protests have grown into the greatest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The protests continued Saturday at some universities in Tehran and other cities. Demonstrations have become more scattered, though, due to the crackdowns by the Basij.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with a group of Basij members and praised their efforts to maintain security.

The tally of those killed and arrested during the protests is rising. At least 448 people have been killed. More than 18,000 protesters have been arrested. Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that is monitoring the protests, said that Iran is not offering a number of those arrested or who have died. Blinding the protesters is something that is happening regularly, according to a group of ophthalmologists.

In a letter, 140 ophthalmologists raised concerns about a rising number of patients with severe eye injuries resulting from being shot with metal pellets and rubber bullets, according to pro-reform Iranian news site Sobhema and Iran International as well as other sites on social media. “Unfortunately in many cases the hit caused the loss of sight in one or both eyes,” the letter, addressed to the head of the country’s ophthalmologists association, said.

The doctors requested that the head of Iran’s Opthalmology Association pass on their concerns about the irreparable damage caused by security forces to the relevant authorities.

It was the second letter from eye doctors expressing concerns about police brutality and the shooting of pellets and rubber bullets into the eyes of demonstrators and others. A previous letter was signed by over 200 ophthalmologists.

Last week, videos circulated on social media of law student Ghazal Ranjkesh in the southern city of Banda Abbas who lost an eye after being shot with a metal pellet on her way home from work.

The U.N. Human Rights Council (I know) voted in favor of opening an investigation into Iran’s protests on Wednesday. The vote was a motion in favor of setting up a fact-finding mission.

In a vote on November 24, a resolution was passed by 25 votes in favour, with six votes against and 16 abstentions. Among the countries to vote in favour were the U.S., UK, Japan and Libya. Among those to abstain were Iran’s neighbors on the 47-member council, the UAE and Qatar.

An effort by China to water down the motion was rejected. China’s envoy Jiang Yingfeng had told the meeting that the motion “obviously will not help resolve the problem”.

That’s a shocker, right? China wanted to water down a human rights motion. It’s also no surprise that Iran’s Islamic country neighbors abstained from voting on the motion. Imagine being an Iranian soccer player in Qatar right now and hearing about the U.N. motion that the World Cup host country abstained from the vote. Which they probably didn’t as there is likely a black-out of such news.

One Iranian-Kurdish footballer has been arrested on charges of “incitement against the regime” as Tehran cracks down on protesters.

Voria Ghafouri, who plays as a defender for the Khuzestan Foolad soccer team, was also arrested on charges of “dishonorable and insulting comportment towards Iran’s national soccer team.”

“Ghafouri had some harsh reactions in support of the recent rioters and was inciting them,” state affiliated Fars News Agency reported.

London-based opposition news outlet Iran International said the star footballer was fired in June from his previous team, Esteghlal FC, for criticizing the government in May when he rebuked it for “its handling of protests sparked by a sudden rise in prices.”

Iranian authorities criticized Ghafouri in relation to the protests earlier in the year, sparked by a spike in food prices after the government cut state subsidies causing costs to shoot up by 300% in some cases.

Many Iranian athletes have spoken out in support of the protesters. Iran’s former national team goalkeeper, Parviz Boroumand, was arrested last week for destroying public property in Tehran during a protest. Former Iranian footballer Ali Karimi, who now lives outside of Iran, posted his support for Ghafouri and Boroumand after their arrests on social media.

In November, archer Parmida Ghasemi demonstrated her support for anti-government protests by removing her hijab during an awards ceremony in Tehran. Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi competed in South Korea without her mandatory hijab on in the month prior, later saying it had fallen off accidentally. However, it was unclear whether Rekabi’s comments were made under duress.

All of this may seem like baby steps to us but for Iranians, it’s a deadly serious bid for freedom. Protesters are risking their lives and there is no indication that either side is backing down. The U.N. Human Rights Council is a joke of a committee but it’s worth keeping an eye on what happens next, if anything.

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