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News | Scattered Protests amid Security Clampdown

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI, DAN GEIST, TEHRAN BUREAU STAFF, and CORRESPONDENTS

14 Feb 2012 06:30Comments

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Iran Standard Time (IRST), GMT+3:30

5 a.m., 26 Bahman/February 15 Confirming the reports we've received of scattered protests, here's how the Wall Street Journal began its coverage of the day's events:

Iranians held scattered, silent demonstrations in Tehran and other big cities Tuesday amid a heavy security lockdown, returning to the streets in the first sizable antigovernment marches in a year.

The demonstration, the first called by the opposition Green Movement since Feb. 14, 2011, didn't draw the massive turnout or spark the widespread violent clashes as have previous protests in Tehran. That raised the question of whether the opposition -- with its leaders under house arrest and other dissenters subject to online monitoring, intimidation and harsh sentences -- still has the power to mobilize the public.

Here's Time's take:

There was a palpable sense of excitement among the supporters of Iran's opposition Green Movement in recent weeks. A mass rally was planned for Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of the house arrest of opposition leaders Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, and a large turnout was expected. Flyers were posted on opposition websites and the Twitter-verse was abuzz with messages from Green supporters encouraging each other.

The Iranian regime squashed it. Even though Green supporters hit the streets in Tehran and smaller cities like Isfahan and Shiraz on Tuesday, they appeared to be outnumbered by security forces, according to accounts on opposition websites. There were also reports of arrests and sporadic clashes between riot police and demonstrators on some opposition sites. Still, the presence of demonstrators in the streets of large Iranian cities for the first time in a year shows that the Green Movement hasn't been completely snuffed out. "You can't gauge the amount of support for the opposition by the number of people in the streets. The strong crackdown by the government keeps many people away," says Hossein Bastani, an Iran analyst based in Paris. "But when there's any people at all in the streets, it still rattles the regime." [...]

Green Movement supporters had called for demonstrators to rally in the streets of Tehran by 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Photos posted on opposition sites showed that security forces had already flooded the streets by that time. Text messaging services were also shut down. The protesters who did hit the streets in Tehran largely stayed away from controversial slogans this year, as had been advised in the demonstration flyers. [...]

"In Iran, if the security forces backed off for one day, only one day, you would see the real strength of the opposition," says Bastani.

10:30 p.m. Melli Mazhabi, the website of the Nationalist-Religious Coalition, reports that there have been "very extensive" arrests of people in Tehran; there are eyewitness accounts of buses full of those who have been detained.

One way that people are reportedly protesting is honking their cars horns. Reports indicate that use of this has been very extensive. Reports also indicate that the traffic in many parts of Tehran has been completely jammed.

Several reports indicate that the security forces have been stopping people in various parts of Tehran where crowds have gathered and checking their cell phones to see whether they are sending protest-related pictures or messages.

Conservative and hardline media outlets have kept completely silent about what is going on in Tehran. But acknowledging what has taken place in the capital, Prosecutor-General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, spokesman for the Iranian judiciary, said that "people are out on street to shop for the upcoming new year," which takes place more than a month from now, on March 21. He did not explain why this shopping spree required such a heavy presence of security forces.

10:15 p.m. HRANA, the Human Rights News Agency, reports that tear gas was used in Azadi Square to disperse the crowd there, and that there were several clashes between security forces and civilians in the square.

Substantial crowds assembled at Vanak, Enghelab, Mirdamad and Fatemi Squares. The streets in central Tehran are also reported to witness large groups of people that are simply walking around in complete silence. Reports indicate that several people were arrested at the intersection of Eskandari Street, and Azadi Avenue.

The memorial for Mohammad Mokhtari, the young supporter of the Green Movement who was killed last year on February 14, was ordered cancelled by the security forces. A note posted at the door of the mosque where the memorial to be held said that it has been cancelled and asked the people to go to Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery, where Mokhtari is buried.

10 p.m. Security forces compelled the closure of stores in Haft-e Tir Square. Bookstores across the street from the campus of the University of Tehran were also ordered closed.

Reports indicate that from Imam Hossein Square in east Tehran to Azadi Square in the west, security forces were everywhere, while there were also sizable gatherings of people.

Security forces were also present at Vanak Square in north Tehran, where people shouted protest slogans. Reports also indicate that around 5:00 p.m. people began to shout slogans on Azadi Street, between the University of Tehran and Sharif University.

At 5:30, people gathered near the intersection of Fathi Shaghaghi Avenue and Vari Asr Street and began shouting "Death to the dictator." Security forces moved in to disperse the crowd.

Reports indicate that there were sizable demonstrations in the southern city of Shiraz, as well.

9 p.m. We've had a series of reports concerning the security crackdown today across Tehran. Beginning around 2 p.m., anti-riot and special forces took over large sections of the Iranian capital. They were first focused in Ferdowsi Square in central Tehran, at the intersection of Hafex Avenue and Enghelab Street near Amir Kabir University, a hotbed of anti-government activities. Enghelab Street near the heart of the city was entirely shut down.

These forces have also occupied Enghelab Square near the University of Tehran, and Taleghani Street to the north of Vali Asr intersection. Reports indicate that all the public phones between Enghelab and Ferdowsi Square were out of order. Security forces were also filming people exiting the subway system in the area.

Beginning around 4:30 p.m., special forces took over Aria Shahr Square and Sattar Khan Street in west Tehran. A short time later, plainclothes agents began patrolling Vali Asr Avenue to the south of Vali Asr Square, where there was a very large crowd.

Around 5 p.m., people gathered in the streets north of Vali Asr Square, particularly Shahid Beheshti Street. Reports also indicate that there were minor skirmishes between civilians and security forces in Enghelab Square.

4:15 p.m. Our correspondents report that many political and civic activists were summoned to police stations and the Intelligence Ministry yesterday and coerced into signing form letters that commit them not to contact anyone or take part in any gatherings today. We also have reports that text messages were sent, apparently randomly, to Tehranis warning that any "contact with counterrevolutionary foreign networks or participation in illegal gatherings" will be punishable under various sections of the Islamic penal code.

10 a.m. We've seen reports from multiple sources on Twitter of shouts of "Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein," "Allah-o akbar," and "Marg bar dictator" -- death to the dictator, a reference to Supreme Leader Khamenei -- echoing across the Tehran night. A few videos that apparently confirm those reports have been posted to YouTube; we're not posting any of them here, as the ones presently available have zero visible content and we have no basis at all for verifying that they were recorded this past night.

The calls for protests today that specified a time spoke of late afternoon or early evening, after the end of most people's workdays. So if there are to be significant developments, they may not unfold for another seven or eight hours.

6:30 a.m. Dawn is breaking in Tehran. The sun will crest the horizon in about 20 minutes. For background on the calls that have been made for silent anti-repression protests -- or, more accurately, voiceless protests, given the recent suggestions that whistles play a prominent role -- see here and here. Today, 25 Bahman on the Persian calendar, marks the anniversary of the massive pro-democracy protests around Iran that were called for by Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Both men were consequently detained extralegally under house arrest along with their wives, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karroubi. While Mrs. Karroubi has subsequently been released, the other three remain in detention, under severely restrictive conditions. The calls for protests today have focused on pressing the regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to release Mousavi, Rahnavard, and Karroubi, as well as the many hundreds of other political prisoners currently incarcerated in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

At the moment, it's 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius); a high of 45° F (7° C) is predicted for the afternoon. We expect it to be mostly sunny, with a light breeze, throughout the day. These are important details. If there's any action, there will be images -- photographs and video -- not all of them necessarily authentic: knowing the climatological conditions is essential to determining the credibility of any given item from the online visual information stream.

Overnight, we've heard from a Tehran correspondent that cellphone service in the capital has been severely disrupted, likely evidence of authorities working to cramp the ability of protestors to organize effectively. There are also reports of people in north Tehran shouting "Mousavi, Karroubi, azad bayad kardad!" -- "Mousavi, Karroubi, must be freed!"

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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