The White House has strongly condemned the arrests in Iran of peaceful protesters, as reports emerged that more than 50 people were arrested in the past two days for protesting in Iranian cities against the country’s economic troubles.
“There are many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with the regime’s corruption and its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad,” the White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement late Friday. “The Iranian government should respect their people’s rights, including their right to express themselves. The world is watching.”
In a statement earlier Friday, the State Department said “Iran’s leaders have turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state, whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos.”
The State Department said it urges “all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption.”
The statement also said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson repeats “his deep support for the Iranian people.”
Earlier Friday, Iranians gathered in cities around the nation to voice their displeasure with the country's economy and government policies.
Iran's Fars news agency said about 300 people gathered in the western city of Kermanshah, where an earthquake killed 600 residents in November. The demonstrators were reportedly calling for government attention to their plight, as well as for the government to free its political prisoners. Police eventually broke up the protest, Fars said.
In Tehran, government security official Mohsen Hamedani told reporters that fewer than 50 people gathered for a protest at a public square Friday. He said a few of them were "temporarily arrested" after they refused to leave when police broke up the demonstration.
WATCH: Video of Iran protests
Iran has an unemployment rate of 12.4 percent, a stagnant economy and rampant inflation.
Demonstrators have also spoken out against Iranian military personnel being deployed outside the country, particularly in Syria, for long periods of time.
Iran's senior vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, said Friday that some political factions were using the economy as an excuse to criticize the government. He said those who had started the protests might not be able to control the movement.
The anti-government protests came a day before Saturday's anniversary of massive pro-government rallies staged in 2009, following a disputed presidential election and months of unrest.
Hasan Heidari, head of Iran's Revolutionary Court of Mashhad, told Fars that 52 protesters were arrested in the city Thursday for gathering illegally.
Hundreds of Iranians had taken to the streets of Mashhad, the country's second-largest city, to protest rising prices and condemn the government.
Videos posted online showed protesters chanting "Death to [President Hassan] Rouhani" and "Death to the dictator." Police were shown dispersing the crowds with water cannons and tear gas.
The semiofficial Ilna news agency reported protests in other cities, including Neyshabour, Kashmar, Yazd and Shahroud.
Mashhad Governor Mohammad Rahim Norouzian told the state-run IRNA news agency that there had been an illegal "No to high prices'' rally in the city. But he said the police dealt with it with "great tolerance" and arrested only those who intended to destroy public property.
The holy Shiite Imam Reza shrine is located in Mashhad.
Protesters also chanted "Leave Syria, think about us" in direct condemnation of Tehran's involvement in Syria's civil war.