TEHRAN: Defying a government ban, hundreds of Iranians protested against Saudi Arabia on Saturday over the alleged abuse of two Iranian pilgrims visiting the Sunni kingdom.
Over 300 protesters gathered in front of the Saudi Embassy in north Tehran to call for its closure. Demonstrators shouted: “Shame on you!” and “Death to House of Saud!” in reference to the ruling family.
Earlier, Mohammad Reza Yousefi, director of Tehran’s Governor Office for Political Affairs, was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying any public protest would be illegal.
The protesters walked toward the embassy, wanting to pull down the Saudi flag, but anti-riot police stopped them.
The demonstration came after two male Iranian pilgrims alleged abuse after Saudi officers at Jeddah’s international airport searched them. Details of the claimed abuse have not been made public though Iran formally has called for the Saudi officers to be punished.
The alleged incident has prompted angry reactions in Shiite power Iran, with some lawmakers and religious leaders calling for a stop to minor hajj pilgrimage trips to Saudi Arabia. The kingdom hosts Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest sites.
Saudi aviation authorities earlier prevented an Iranian plane carrying 260 pilgrims from entering the kingdom’s airspace, claiming the aircraft lacked appropriate permissions.
The protests come amid high political tensions between Tehran and Riyadh as a Saudi-led coalition is carrying out airstrikes in Yemen against Shiite rebels known as Houthis. The U.S. and other Western countries accuse Iran of supporting the Houthi advance. Tehran and the rebels deny having direct military ties.
Iran, which is trying to garner international support to stop the bombing, stepped up its condemnation Thursday as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the air campaign a “genocide.”