DUBAI: Iran’s courts will deal firmly with anyone who causes disruption or commits crimes during a wave of anti-government protests, the judiciary said on Tuesday, signalling the authorities intend to hand down harsh sentences to convicted demonstrators.

One of the biggest challenges to Iran’s clerical leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the demonstrations have already persisted for eight weeks despite tough security measures and severe warnings from security forces.

In a rare move, authorities have deployed a posse of police on horseback in Tehran’s streets to stifle the demonstrations, according to a video posted on social media.

More than 1,000 people have been indicted in Tehran Province alone in connection with what the government calls “riots.”

“Now, the public, even protesters who are not supportive of riots, demand from the judiciary and security institutions to deal with the few people who have caused disturbances in a firm, deterrent and legal manner,” judiciary spokesman Masoud Setayeshi said.

The anti-government demonstrations erupted in September after the death of a Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by morality police for allegedly flouting the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code imposed on women.

The activist HRANA news agency said that 318 protesters had been killed in the unrest as of Saturday, including 49 minors. Thirty-eight members of the security forces had also been killed, it said.

State media said last month that more than 46 members of the security forces, including police officers, had been killed. Government officials have not provided an estimate of any wider death count.

Iranian leaders have accused enemies including the United States of fomenting the unrest. Hard-line Iranian lawmakers have urged the judiciary to “deal decisively” with the perpetrators.

“For how long can we tolerate this?” Setayeshi said.

People from all walks of life have taken part in the nationwide protests, with students and women playing a prominent role, waving and burning headscarves.

Two Iranian journalists are facing charges of collusion against national security and propaganda against the state, Setayeshi said, adding that the two were in prison under a temporary arrest warrant and that their case was about to be finalized.

One of those facing charges is Niloofar Hamedi, who worked for the pro-reform Sharq daily and was the first to signal to the world that all was not well with Amini with a photo of her parents hugging each other in a Tehran hospital.

The second journalist is Elaheh Mohammadi, who covered Amini’s funeral in her Kurdish hometown of Saqez, where the protests began. Some 300 Iranian journalists last month demanded their release.