One Killed As Antigovernment Protesters Clash With Security Forces In Iran
By Golnaz Esfandiari
Reports from Iran say one person was shot and killed as police moved to break up antigovernment demonstrations in the capital, Tehran, on February 14.
Eyewitnesses have told RFE/RL that thousands of protesters answered calls from the opposition to turn out for a banned rally in support of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
Demonstrators were met with opposition by security forces, who fired into the air and used tear gas to disperse the crowd in the streets leading to Azadi Square, the announced site of the main rally.
The semiofficial Fars news agency reported gunshots killed one bystander and wounded others. Fars said "seditionists" from the banned rebel group the People's Mujahedin of Iran were responsible for the shooting.
A student activist who took part in the February 14 protest told RFE/RL that security forces had shut down some of the streets leading to the square. He said he saw thousands of people marching in the streets of Tehran toward the square and that the number of protesters grew as darkness fell.
The student activist also said he saw some protesters carrying canned food and warm clothes, "as if they were planning to spend the night in the streets."
"We are ready to die for freedom. We said goodbye to each other last night in case something happens," said the young man, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"During last year's protests I saw Amir Javadifar. It could have been me," he added, referring to a protester who last year was arrested and died after being tortured.
Unable To Leave Home
Ahead of the protest, opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi were reportedly prevented from leaving their houses. Karrubi was put under house arrest last week, while Musavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, were prevented by security forces from joining the demonstration.
Their telephone lines were reportedly also cut to prevent them from communicating with opposition members.
Both men had filed a request for permission to demonstrate on February 14 in support of the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
The same regime officials who have been vocal in their support for the revolution in Egypt and popular uprisings in other Arab countries refused to issue a permit.
The February 14 rally quickly turned into yet another antigovernment demonstration, the most significant since the 2009 street protests that shook the Islamic republic. Protests were also reported in several other cities, including Shiraz and Isfahan. (This video shows security forces massing in the city of Mashhad.)
The protesters -- who included men and women, young and old -- chanted slogans against Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, including "Death to the dictator," "Mubarak, Ben Ali, Seyed Ali's Turn," and "Khamenei, shame on you, look at Mubarak."
Amateur video footage from Tehran shows citizens marching and chanting, "Political prisoners must be released!" and towards the end a woman shouts, "They used tear gas." People then start to run.
Another video shows protesters beating a man who is said to be a member of the pro-government Basij militia that has been used repeatedly by the regime in its crackdown on the opposition movement.
Opposition websites reported "dozens" of arrests. Iran's hard-line Fars news agency reported one person was killed and several injured during the February 14 protest. Fars, which is said to have ties to the Revolutionary Guard, blamed the Mujahedin Khalq (MEK) group and members of the opposition Green Movement for the shooting.
People 'Demand Their Rights'
Ahead of the protests, a Paris-based aide to Musavi, Ardeshir Amir Arjomand, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the "very idea of holding rallies" to support democratic movements in the Middle East is a "great victory" for Iran's opposition movement.
"Those authorities who try to prevent the rallies using threats and fear-mongering are aware of this issue. And we hope that this rally will take place in a complete peaceful manner along with precautions taken to guarantee people’s optimum well-being and security," Arjomand said.
"We are asking all people to pay attention to the fact that we are a peaceful movement and we seek to show that democracy is important and essential for all people the world over. We defend the Egyptian people. We defend all those who seek democracy."
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for "the aspirations of the people" who took to the streets in Iran.
"What we see happening in Iran today is a testament to the courage of the Iranian people and an indictment of the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime," Clinton said, "a regime which over the last three weeks has constantly hailed what went on in Egypt, and now, when given the opportunity to afford their people the same rights as they called for on behalf of the Egyptian people, once again [reveals its] true nature.
"We support the universal human rights of the Iranian people. They deserve to have the same rights that they saw being played out in Egypt and that are part of their own birthright."
Authorities in Tehran were nothing if not prepared for the February 14 rally. Hundreds of security troops, including plainclothes agents, were reportedly deployed in Tehran's main squares ahead of the demonstration.
In recent days, Iran has also arrested several opposition members and increased its web filtering.
In the last few days, a cyberwar has been also going on between opposition members and government supporters who have managed to hack opposition websites, including Karrubi's "Sahamnews."
Several government websites, including that of the state broadcaster, were also hacked and brought down briefly.
'A New Middle East'
Iranian state television has repeatedly shown footage of a state-organized rally on February 11 that marked the 32nd anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad claimed at the rally that antigovernment protests spreading across the Arab world -- including those which led to the ouster of the autocratic presidents of Tunisia and Egypt -- are an extension of the Islamic Revolution that toppled Iran's U.S.-backed monarch in 1979.
"Soon a new Middle East -- without the U.S. and the Zionist regime -- will be created and the oppressors will not have a place in the Middle East," Ahmadinejad said.
Musavi aide Arjomand said Ahmadinejad's regime should accept that Iranians are "a wise people" who are able "to express their views in the streets in all calmness and demand their own rights."
But the Iranian regime continues to deny opposition protesters the right to demonstrate against the disputed 2009 presidential election results that kept Ahmadinejad in office for a second term.
Frustrated by the government's violent crackdowns on street protests, many Iranians who are unhappy with Ahmadinejad's regime turned to a safer way to express their discontent overnight -- shouting "God is great!" and "Death to the dictator!" from their rooftops in Tehran. Such chants were common during the 2009 postelection unrest.
with contributions from Ron Synovitz, and reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda and news agencies
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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