Dr. Mike Ansari is the director of operations for Mohabat TV, the first 24-hour Farsi Christian satellite TV channel to beam gospel programs into Iran. Ansari appeared on Monday afternoon's edition of CBN's Newswatch to discuss the current protests raging in Iran. Newswatch is seen weekdays on the CBN News Channel. For a programming schedule, click here.
The hardline Islamic regime of Iran is facing widespread protests from its own people, and it's cracking down in return. So far, the US has clearly stood with the protestors but stopped short of calling for regime change.
Over the weekend, Iranians took to the streets in more than 100 cities. The country has been struggling to remain economically viable in the face of renewed US sanctions after President Trump pulled the US out of a highly criticized nuclear deal with Iran over a year ago.
Iranians held economic protests in 2017 and 2018. But this time, the protests have spread to at least 116 cities.
In some cases, the protests have turned violent with demonstrators setting fires. There have also been reports of gunfire. At least three people have died.
The semi-official Fars news agency, which is close to the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, claimed Sunday that demonstrators had ransacked roughly 100 banks and stores in the country. Authorities arrested 1,000 people out of 89,000 protestors, Fars reported, citing unnamed security officials for the information.
Keep in mind that the official death toll and the other numbers come from Iranian authorities so there's no way to verify their accuracy.
What sparked the outrage this time? The government's hiking of gas prices by 50 percent.
In response to the protests, the government shut down internet access over the weekend to the country's 80 million people.
Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is backing the government's gas hike, and signaled a potential crackdown on the protestors calling them "thugs."
Meanwhile, the US is backing the protestors.
"These developments that you see right now are their own people telling them we need change and to sit down with the American government and let's negotiate this so that it's to the benefit of all," said US Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates John Rakolta.
But Ambassador Rakolta made clear the US is not calling on the protestors to overturn the government.
"We are not advocating regime change," Rakolta said. "We are going to let the Iranian people decide for themselves their future. But their future is to be a part of the world community."
In an interview on Monday afternoon's edition of CBN's Newswatch, Mike Ansari of Mohabat TV said the government's shutdown of the internet is a major blow to the communication mechanism in Iran.
"We had several people call us within the last few days. They are telling us that Iran has shut down the internet and access for people to communicate with each other and with people outside," Ansari said. "They want to keep it hushed and they want it closed and contained."
"We had a call from a lady named Parister who lives in Iran and she said 'they are feeling the solution is hopeless,'" he relayed. "We also had a call from a gentleman with a Muslim background who's a recent convert to Christianity, and he's asking 'What is our role? Do we join the people outside in the demonstrations as new Christians or do we stay inside and pray for Iran?'"
"It seems there's discontent. There is anger. There is frustration with the Iranian leaders and the economy," Ansari told CBN News.