Iran: violence spreads to Tabriz

Thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran June 16 in rival demonstrations over the country’s disputed presidential election, pushing the crisis into its fourth day despite a government offer to recount a limited number of ballots. With a harsh media crackdown in place, word has been slow to get out of protests outside Tehran—but at least two are reported dead in Tabriz, capital of Azerbaijan province.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made an extraordinary appeal in response to Iran’s largest wave of protest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “In the elections, voters had different tendencies, but they equally believe in the ruling system and support the Islamic Republic,” Khamenei said at a meeting with representatives of the four presidential candidates. “Nobody should take any action that would create tension, and all have to explicitly say they are against tension and riots.”

The call for a limited recount was met with refusal from reformist politicians, who said they would accept only a new election. On the streets of Tehran, opposition supporters marched in a line more than a mile long—mostly in silence, some carrying signs in English asking, “Where is my vote?”

The New York Times noted that the numbers of opposition protesters June 16 did not match those of the previous day, when hundreds of thousands of joined in the largest public demonstration since the 1979 Revolution. But harsh restrictions on the media may be masking the true dimension of the movement.

Reporters working for international news outlets are allowed talk about the rallies in their live reports—but not to leave their hotel rooms and offices. The decision was an apparent reaction to video showing violence at recent protests.

But a contact in Tabriz told Global Post by telephone that two people were killed June 15 in front of the city’s Abrasan Square, close to Tabriz University. She said police were everywhere in the city the following day. As in Tehran, residents in Tabriz go up to their rooftops every night and shout “Allah-Akbar” (God is great)—an explicit invocation of a tactic from the 1979 Revolution. (NYT, CNN, June 17; AP, Global Post, June 16)

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  1. First-hand report from Tehran
    Received via e-mail, June 16:

    Arash Aryan [pseudonym] reports his own observations on the course of events of 15th June 2009 in Tehran

    I left my home in Tajrish along with my family at 3 p.m. We went down Valiast Street which is the main northern-southern avenue in Tehran and entered the Evin Exp’way which leads to Enghelab Street. We knew that people are supposed to gather in Enghelab Sq. (Revolution Sq.) at 4 and march toward Azadi Sq. (Freedom Sq.). From Gisha Bridge onwards, we saw people walking down. Cars were blowing their horns and people were showing victory sign. We went to Navvab Street and parked our car at the end of the street. Then we took a taxi to bring us back to the Enghelab Street. On our way, near Jomhouri Sq. (Republic Sq.), I saw a group of about 20 militia with long beards and batons on motorbikes. My hand was out of the car window with a little green ribbon (the sign of reformists) around my finger. One of the militia told me to throw that ribbon away. I showed him a finger. All of a sudden, about 15 people attacked me inside the car. They beat me with their batons and wanted to pull me out. My wife and my daughter who were sitting in the back seat cried and hold me tight. I also hold myself tight on the chair. They wanted to shatter the car windows. The driver went out and explained that he is a taxi and we are his passengers and he has no fault. After about 5 minutes,they left. My elbow hurts severely. Then, a young man from their group came and kissed my elbow! I told him: You know, I don’t hate you. I am like you with the only difference that I know more and you are ignorant. He apologized and left.

    We joined the crowd in Enghelab Street.

    Read carefully:

    What I saw today was the most elegant scene I had ever witnessed in my life. The huge number of people were marching hand in hand in full peace. Silence. Silence was everywhere. There was no slogan. No violence. Hands were up in victory sign with green ribbons. People carried placards which read: Silence. Old and young, man and woman of all social groups were marching cheerfully. This was a magnificent show of solidarity. Enghelab Street which is the widest avenue in Tehran was full of people. I was told that the march has begun in Ferdowsi Sq. and the end of the march was now in Imam Hossein Sq. to the further east of Tehran while on the other end people had already gathered in Azadi Sq. The length of this street is about 6 kilometers. The estimate is about 2 million people. On the way, we passed a police department and a militia (Baseej) base. In both places, the doors were closed and we could see fully-armed riot police and militia watching the people from behind the fences. Near Sharif University of Technology where the students had chased away Ahmadinejad a few days ago, Mirhossein Mousavi (the reformist elect president) and Karrubi (the other reformist candidate) spoke to people for a few minutes which was received by cries of praise and applause. I felt proud to find myself among such a huge number of passionate people who were showing the most reasonable act of protest. Frankly, I didn’t expect such a political maturity from emotional Iranians who easily get excited. My family and I had put stickers on our mouths to represent the suppression.

    Placards that people carried were different; from poems by the national poet Ahmad Shamlu to light-hearted slogans against Ahmadinejad. Examples include: ” To slaughter us/ why did you need to invite us / to such an elegant party” (Poem by Shamlu). “Hello! Hello! 999? / Our votes were stolen” or “The Miracle of the Third Millenium: 2 x 2 = 24 millions” (alluding to the claim by Government that Ahmadinejad obtained 24 million votes), “Where is my vote?”, “Give me back my vote” and many other.

    We arrived in Azadi Square where the entire square was full of population. It is said that around 500,000 people can be accommodated in this huge square and it was full. Suddenly we saw smoke from Jenah Freeway and heard the gunshot. People were scared at first but then went forward. I just heard the gunshots but my sister who had been on the scene at that part told me later that she saw 4 militia came out from a house and shot a girl. Then they shot a young boy in his eye and the bullet came out of his ear. She said that 4 people were shot. At least one person dead has been confirmed. People arrested one of the Baseeji militia but the three others ran away when they ran out of bullet. At around 8 we went back on foot. On the way back people were still in the street and were chanting Allah Akbar (God is Great).

    I was coming home at around 2 a.m. In parkway, I saw about ten buses full of armed riot police parked on the side of the street. Then I saw scattered militia in civil clothes with clubs in hand patroling the empty streets. In Tajrish Square, I saw a very young boy (around 16) with a club who was looking at the cars to see if he can find something to attack. I don’t know how and under what teachings can young boys change into militia.

    I came home. Tomorrow, people will gather again in Valiasr Square for another peaceful march toward the IRIB building which controls all the media and which spreads filthy lies. The day before Yesterday, Ahmadinejad had hold his victory ceremony. Government buses had transported all his supporters from nearby cities. There was full coverage of that ceremony where fruit juice and cake was plenty. A maximum of 100,000 had gathered to hear his speech. These included all the militia and the soldiers and all supporters he could gather by the use of free TV publicity. Today, at least 2 million came only relying on word of mouth while reformists have no newspaper, no radio, no TV. All their internet sites are filtered as well as social networks such as facebook. Text messaging and mobile communication was also cut off during the demonstration. Since yesterday, the Iranian TV was announcing that there is no license for any gathering and riot police will severely punish anybody who may demonstrates. Ahmadinejad called the opposition as a bunch of insignificant dirt who try to make the taste of victory bitter to the nation. He also called the western leaders as a bunch of “filthy homosexuals”. All these disgusting remarks was today answered by that largest demonstration ever. Older people compared the demonstration of today with the Ashura Demonstration of 1979 which marks the downfall of the Shah regime and even said that it outnumbered that event.

    The militia burnt a house themselves to find the excuse to commit violence. People neutralized their tactic to a large degree by their solidarity, their wisdom and their denial to engage in any violent act.

    I feel sad for the loss of those young girls and boys. It is said that they also killed 3 students last night in their attack at Tehran University residence halls. I heard that a number of professors of Sharif University and AmirKabir University (Tehran Polytechnic) have resigned.

    Democracy is a long way ahead. I may not be alive to see that day. With eyes full of tear in these early hours of Tuesday 16th June 2009, I glorify the courage and bravery of those martyrs and I hope that their blood will make every one of us more committed to freedom, to democracy and to human rights.

    Viva Freedom, Viva Democracy, Viva Iran

    p.s.: If you find this report of any value, please share it with as many people as possible. Facebook is filtered and internet is very slow in Iran. Please somebody put this on facebook.

  2. Another report from Tehran
    Received via e-mail, June 16:

    Blood in the streets of Iran

    Let the world know

    Latest News:
    After the peaceful public demonstration of 15th June which showed the power of the proud Iranian nation, the despotic regime of the Islamic Republic is trying to show this as a trivial revolt by a bunch of disorderly youth.

    1- Last night, the Baseeji militia opened fire on the peaceful protesters, killing 7 people in cold blood.

    2- Tehran University dormitory was raided after midnight and at least four students were killed and many wounded.

    3- Today, the reformist supporters were suppoed to attend another public demonstration in Valiasr Square and march peacefully toward the IRIB [Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting] which is acting as the Pravda of the Islamic Republic. Since this morning, the government official newspaper “Iran” and all TV channels are urging supporters of all candidates to attend a rally at the same place at 4 to commemorate what they call “the epic participation of people in elections which supports the sacred Islamic regime”. On the other hand, many buses carrying militia and their families and soldiers from garrison have been seen in different parts of roads leading to Tehran. Riot police and militia are in full alert. I am seeing from my office window overlooking Tajrish Square in the north of Tehran around 300 fully armoured police and vehicles with barriers entered into the bus parking in the side of Tajrish Square faceing Imamzadeh Saleh Shrine. They evacauted all buses and made the bus terminal their base. My friends told me that they are closing all main roads leading to the IRIB building and Ahmadinejad supporters are brought in from all parts of the country. They are equipped with baton and large knifes known as “Qama”.

    The TV is claiming that a group of armed men attacked a military building and 7 people were killed in gun shots. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY UNTRUE. The Baseejis came out of their base and fired young peaceful protesters. (If the low speed of computer allows I will attach the photo). The IRIB is stressing that reformist supporters are a few people who are intrigued by following infulence and claims that people are urging the officials to suppress what they call the trouble -seekers. The Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani spoke today in the Parliament that “A leaf was moved on a tree in Tehran and the whole western media are maneuvering over it”. PLEASE: At least 2 million people attaneded the rally and this guy calls it “moving a leaf on a tree”!!!

    The hardliners’ plan for today is brutal killing. They want to surround the supporters of reformist president Mousavi and stabilize their rule of terror or if they are unable to do this, they want to show them as supporters of the Islamic Republic by showing them on TV.

    Yesterday, helicopters flew over the people but not a single picture was shown in Iranian media while today, they are advertising the gathering of today and the entire military and sepah [army] is mobilized to make it happen today.

    – Mousavi issued a statement and warned his supporters off and asked them not to be deceived by the hardliners and not to attend today’s ceremony. This was the only statement of Mousavi broadcasted on News Channel.

    – In Shiraz people have arrested one of the members of riot police who could not speak Persian and they found out that he is a Lebanese Hezbollah member.

    – On Ahmadinejad’s rally, some of his supporters were carrying pictures of [Hezbollah leader] Seyed Hassan Nasrollah

    – There is much skepticism [speculation?] that this was a coup designed in Moscow by the Russians. To Russians, no president is better than Ahmadinejad. During Ahmadinejad, they milked the Iranian economy for their assistance in nuclear plan. Nobody is as obsessive about nucelar energy as Ahmadinejad. If Mousavi comes to power, there is a strong possibility that he might not be as willing as Ahmadinejad to pursue the same plan with so much costs. Ahmadinejad also supports Chaves, Morales and Ortega who are communists. This is a ridiculous contradiction.

    Ideologically, Islam detests communism but in practice the Islamic Republic is strengthening bonds with communists. Who can serve the Russian interests in challenging US influence better than Ahmadinejad. The third reason is the case of the Caspian Sea. Caspian Sea was divided on a 50-50 basis between IRAN and the USSR. Ahmadinejad has already agreed with 11% of the Caspian Sea bed resources for Iran and it seems that Russia is asking even for more.

    Ahmadinejad is in Moscow today for a security summit.

    On the other hand, the Leader has ordered the Council of Guardians to investigate into what he called “claims of some mistakes” in elections and the Head of Guardian Council [Ahmad] Jannati appeared in TV and said that if anybody is not happy with the results of election, they can submit their documents to us and we will investigate. What a joke! Jannati himself is the main supporter of Ahmadinejad and this council has never showed any respect to the rights of people.

    Future is unknown and we are fearing the worst. Militarizing the Country and changing Iran into a new Zimbabwe is what Russia seems to be keen on.

    Everybody who receives this email, please consider that the people of Iran have no media. Reformist newspapers are mostly closed down. Political activists are either imprisoned or silenced by threat. Internet sites are filtered. Facebook is closed down. Foreign reporters were dismissed and asked to leave the Country since two days ago. Our only means of communication with the outside world is personal emails and vides people take with mobile phones. What I wrote in this email are partly based on my own observations and partly based on hearsay. In absence of no impartial media, we are puzzled what to believe. The goverment may promiss [sic] a re-count of the votes to buy some more time and to strengthen their military presence. This is not acceptable to the people. The MINIMUM wish of the Iranians is a re-election under international monitoring. People feel betrayed and humiliated and rightful to be so. After thirty years living under fundamentalist dictatorship, people turned out for the elction on the hope of some reforms within the minimum choice they had: To choose from four candidates that had been already approved by the Council of Guardians. And now, the system does not tolerate this minimum right and steals the votes.

    “No to Russian-backed Coup”
    “No to Slaughtering People”
    “Ahmadinejad is NOT our president”
    “We urge international organizations and democratic countries not to recognize this government”
    “Mousavi is the legitimate president of Iran”

    – I have a copy of a letter by Minister of Interior Sadeq Mahsouli to the Leader dated June 13,2009. In this Letter, the Minister of Interior says that we have organized everything so that in this sensitive time, the outcome will be in favor of the revolution and the system and all precautions to deal with the aftermath have been made and we are ready and political parties leader are under surveillance. He then writes the actual votes for information of the leader which run as follow:
    -Total Votes: 42,026,078
    – Mirhossein Mousavi Khameneh (Reformist): 19,075,623
    – Mehdi Karrubi (second Reformist): 13, 387,104
    – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 5,698,417
    – Mohsen Rezayi Mirghayed: 3,754,218
    – Void votes: 38,716

    signed on behalf of Sadegh Mahsouli, Minister of Interior
    ( I cannot confirm the authenticity of this letter, but it very much reflects the pre-election opinion polls).

    Viva Freedom, Viva Democracy, Viva Iran