“Bobby Sands and exposing of his opponents’ power confirms what Islam teaches us: Glory days of tyrannical imperialists will come to an end,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in one of six messages relating to Sands posted on his Twitter feed (edited to remove hashtags, abbreviations etc.).
“We heard the message of Bobby Sands’ silent lips and strongly believe in it. This message is the message of the fall of global domineering empires,” said a second.
Another tweet described Sands as a “young Irish freedom fighter [who] resisted in a way that caught world’s attention” and a fourth charged that the British government “just watched him die.”
Khamenei also posted a sketch of an emaciated Sands, bearing the tag “Murdered.”
Sands, who was serving a 14-year prison term after being convicted in connection with a bombing and gun battle with police, died in Northern Ireland’s Maze prison on May 5, 1981, on the 66th day of a self-inflicted fast.
He and nine other jailed Irish Republican Army members were demanding changes to conditions designed to undermine their status as “prisoners of war” rather than criminals, including the right not to wear prison uniform or do prison work.
The episode was used by the IRA to generate international support for its violent campaign against British rule, aided by the fact Sands narrowly won a House of Commons seat for a Northern Ireland constituency during that period.
The newly-established Islamic Republic embraced Sands at the time of his death, renaming Churchill Boulevard in Tehran’s diplomatic district to Bobby Sands Street – an action seen as aimed at embarrassing the British government, since its embassy was located there.
According to published accounts the embassy as a result was rearranged so that its main entrance was on a parallel street, Ferdowsi Avenue.
The British government proscribed the IRA as a terrorist group, although it was never a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. IRA splinter groups, the Real IRA and Continuity IRA, are designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations.