Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iran - Protests continue, repression escalates

Iran's political crisis continues, but the visible part of it seems to be be somewhat reduced in size and intensity for a few days. Not really a lull, but probably a pause in the storm ... while the opposition figures out what to do next and frantic maneuvers within and between different elite factions go on behind the scenes. Reuters:
TEHRAN (Reuters) – A security crackdown appears to have quelled street rallies against Iran's disputed poll, but the leadership faced a new challenge on Wednesday from calls by reformist clerics for national mourning for dead protesters. [....]

At least 10 protesters were killed in the worst violence on Saturday, and about seven more early last week. Many of the deaths have been filmed by fellow demonstrators, posted on the Internet and viewed by thousands around the world.

U.S. President Barack Obama toughened his stance on Tuesday and said he was "appalled and outraged" by Iran's crackdown.

Iran has accused the protesters of being backed by the West, the United States and Britain in particular, and have paraded arrested young demonstrators on state television confessing to being incited by foreign news broadcasts. [....]

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a dissident but yet one of the most senior clerics in Iran, called for three days of national mourning from Wednesday for those killed. [....]

Montazeri was once named successor to Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini, but fell out with the founder of the Islamic Republic shortly before his death in 1989. Montazeri has been under house arrest in the holy city of Qom for around a decade.

Reformist cleric Mehdi Karoubi who came third in the election also signaled opposition would continue, calling on Iranians to hold ceremonies on Thursday to mourn the dead. [....]
By comparison with last week's massive demonstrations, street protests do seem to be happening on a smaller scale. But they're continuing, and there are various reports of policy and basijis beating up crowds and even firing on them.

=> One of these attacks on demonstrators seems to have occurred in and around Baharestan Square, near the Parliament building. Here is a phone interview televised by CNN:

And here is a partial transcript (via Andrew Sullivan:
"I was going towards Baharestan with my friend. This was everyone, not just supporters of one candidate or another. All of my friends, they were going to Baharestan to express our opposition to these killings and demanding freedom. The black-clad police stopped everyone. They emptied the buses that were taking people there and let the private cars go on. We went on until Ferdowsi then all of a sudden some 500 people with clubs came out of [undecipherable] mosque and they started beating everyone. They tried to beat everyone on [undecipherable] bridge and throwing them off of the bridge. And everyone also on the sidewalks. They beat a woman so savagely that she was drenched in blood and her husband, he fainted. They were beating people like hell. It was a massacre. They were trying to beat people so they would die. they were cursing and saying very bad words to everyone. This was exactly a massacre... I don't know how to describe it."
Nico Pitney reports:
Another Iranian who has been reliable in the past posts on Facebook, "In Baharestan we saw militia with axe choping ppl like meat - blood everywhere - like butcher . . . Fighting in Vanak Sq, Tajrish sq, Azadi Sq - now . ."
=> The Guardian's report today was headlined "Iran protesters in 'bloody clashes' with riot police". Some highlights
Bloody clashes broke out in Tehran today as Iran's supreme leader said he would not yield to pressure over the disputed election.

The renewed confrontation took place in Baharestan Square, near parliament, where hundreds of protestors faced off against several thousand riot police and other security personnel.

Witnesses likened the scene to a ­war zone, with helicopters hovering overhead, many arrests and police beating demonstrators. [....] With the independent media banned from covering street protests, the reports could not be verified. [....]

The latest confrontations came as the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose authority has been challenged by massive grassroots protests, said on state television: "I had insisted and will insist on implementing the law on the election issue. Neither the establishment nor the nation will yield to pressure at any cost."

But the opposition was just as unyielding. One of the defeated presidential candidates, Mehdi Karroubi, stepped up his challenge to the regime, describing the government as illegitimate. Rejecting the outcome of the 12 June vote, the reformist cleric and most liberal of the presidential candidates said on his website: "I do not accept the result and therefore consider as illegitimate the new government. Because of the irregularities, the vote should be annulled."

In another act of blatant defiance, the wife of defeated opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi called on the authorities to immediately release Iranians who had been detained.

In remarks posted on her husband's website, Zahra Rahnavard said: "I regret the arrest of many politicians and people and want their immediate release. It is my duty to continue legal protests to preserve Iranian rights." [....]
Meanwhile according to Agence France-Presse:
The authorities have also intensified a crackdown on opposition leader and defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, with the arrest of staff at his newspaper and vitriolic attacks from the hardline press. [....]

Mousavi, who was premier in the post-revolution era, has urged supporters to keep demonstrating but to use "self-restraint" to avoid further bloodshed while another defeated candidate Mehdi Karroubi called for a mourning ceremony on Thursday for slain protesters.

Police have arrested 25 journalists and other staff at Mousavi's Kalemeh Sabz (Green Word) newspaper -- which was shut down about 10 days ago -- one of its editors said. [....]
As far as I can tell, Moussavi's own whereabouts are uncertain. On Saturday, according to several reports, Moussavi called for a general strike if he was arrested and declared to his supporters,“I am ready for martyrdom.”

I expect the next phase of the storm to break out soon, but we'll have to wait and see what happens next.

--Jeff Weintraub