On Saturday the private intelligence company Stratfor posted a report based on an eyewitness account of massive repression with "superior and overwhelming force" of several thousand demonstrators in Tehran.[1]  --  AFP said that "The crowds had gathered near Jamaran mosque, where reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami was due to deliver a speech to mark the Shiite holy day of Ashura, witnesses said.[2]  --  "[F]oreign media have been banned from reporting directly on protests," Al Jazeera said.[3]  --  The incidents occurred in advance of large demonstrations that are expected on Sunday for Ashura, a Shiite holiday of mourning that coincides with the seventh day after the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, a critic of the regime, the Washington Post noted.[4]  --  "The 10-day commemoration of the death of Imam Hussein is a sensitive period that not only defines Shiite Islam but also drives politics in Iran," Thomas Erdbrink wrote.  --  'Everything we have, we owe to Ashura,' the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, said repeatedly. . . . [B]oth supporters and opponents of the government [lay] claim to Hussein's mantle of victimhood."  --  With large demonstrations planned for Sunday, there are widespread "fears that an open confrontation could end in serious bloodshed," the London Telegraph reported.[5]  --  But "[p]rotesters also now believe that despite its threats, the régime has become wary of using brute force too freely, fearing that more killings will create more martyrs," wrote Hatef Baghi and Colin Freeman, who suggested that much hinges on demonstrations tomorrow.  --  "Ashura will play a major role in determining how things develop from here," said one Iranian....



December 26, 2009 -- 2143 GMT (1343 PST)


--What follows is a report from Tehran.  It has been paraphrased but transmits a sense of what happened there on the morning of Dec. 26.  Obviously, it is a limited view from the perspective of one person.

Thousands of security personnel deployed in and around Enghelab Avenue on the morning of Dec. 26, where the march was scheduled to happen.  Security forces stationed at the metro entrance searched purses and looked at cell phones to see what kinds of pictures were stored there.  Very quickly, people started running, and a powerful type of tear gas could be smelled.  Reports arrived that riot police were attacking about 800 demonstrators gathered at Imam Hossein Square.  The demonstrators dispersed into smaller groups.

By roughly 12:30, around 4,000 people had gathered in and around Ferdosi Square.  Most were walking on the sidewalk until they were attacked.  A few were blindfolded and led away, while others simply were beaten.  A little farther west, where the crowd was marching, security forces attacked from three sides.  These attacks lasted for an hour and a half.  There were large numbers of arrests.  Vigilantes, not security forces, seemed to be striking suspects, especially those who appeared to be leaders, leaving them bloody.  The wounded later were arrested by security forces, which apparently took blood to be a mark for arrest.  A large number of demonstrators ran down an alley adjacent to the ISNA news agency building, and many ran inside.  The police raided the building.

Security forces were clearly under orders not to allow protesters to gather together.  They were generally successful, applying superior and overwhelming force.



Agence France-Presse
December 27, 2009

TEHRAN -- Iranian police clashed on Saturday with thousands of opposition supporters in north Tehran who were shouting slogans against the government, witnesses said.

"Police told them they have five minutes to leave and when they were still shouting slogans and persisted, policemen on motorbikes drove through the crowds and fired teargas," a witness said.

The crowds had gathered near Jamaran mosque, where reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami was due to deliver a speech to mark the Shiite holy day of Ashura, witnesses said.

The late founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, used to address people in the Jamaran mosque.

Protesters were shouting "death to this dictatorship" and "if Khomeini was alive, he would sure be with us," witnesses reported.

Riot police and members of the Islamic Basij militia chased demonstrators into the nearby bustling Niavaran street and fired paintball bullets at them, witnesses said.

Security forces were also seen arresting several protesters, the witnesses said.



Middle East


Al Jazeera
December 26, 2009


Iranian police have clashed with thousands of opposition supporters in Tehran during a Shia religious ceremony, witnesses in the Iranian capital said.

Sources told Al Jazeera that nearly 3,000 people had gathered on Saturday in northern Tehran, where Mohammad Khatami, the former president, was expected to deliver a speech.

The event was later cancelled as police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse the crowd.

The confrontation comes as the country marks Ashoura, a 10-day period of Shia religious ceremonies.

The opposition supporters had gathered in an apparent attempt to revive anti-government demonstrations that followed a post-election crackdown in June, the opposition website Jaras said.


The same website earlier reported about similar clashes in central Tehran.

The report could not be independently confirmed, as foreign media have been banned from reporting directly on protests.

"A large group of people and security forces clashed in the Pol-e Choubi area while people were marching," Jaras said.

The reported clashes occurred as people around Iran marked the day of Tasoua with religious ceremonies which peak on Sunday, when Shia Muslims commemorate the 7th century death of Hussein, Prophet Muhammad's grandson.

Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor at Tehran University, said the opposition had defied security forces' warnings against using Tasoua as an occasion to stage anti-government demonstrations.

"It appears that the opposition is not something that we can say has disappeared or been reduced.  The opposition has used every occasion to register its voice," he told Al Jazeera.


Six months after a disputed election plunged Iran into political turmoil, tension has again mounted after the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a leading dissident religious leader, last week.

Mourning and burial ceremonies for Montazeri, who died aged 87, have sparked bloody confrontations with security forces.

Iranian police clashed on Thursday with Montazeri mourners, making arrests and injuring some, an opposition website said after Tehran warned of a crackdown.

Rehesabz.net said the incident happened in the northern city of Zanjan after authorities reportedly banned most memorial services for Montazeri after his funeral turned into an opposition rally.

"People gathered for Ayatollah Montazeri's memorial were faced with locked mosque doors and decided to hold the ceremony in the street," Rahesabz.net said.

"People were mourning in silence and the Quran was being recited but the police sought to disperse them which led to clashes and people were severely beaten as they were running away.

"Many have been arrested and some of the injured have been taken to hospital."

The report could not be independently verified as foreign media are banned from covering opposition-linked gatherings.


In another development that could possibly anger Tehran, a British newspaper on Saturday named an Iranian woman shot dead during protests against her country's disputed June elections as its "person of the year."

The Times said Neda Agha-Soltan became a "global symbol of opposition to tyranny" after images of her bleeding to death during the protests in Tehran were shown around the world.

"Ms Soltan, 26, joined the protest because she was outraged at the way that the regime stole the presidential election," the newspaper said on its front page that included a photograph of protesters holding pictures of her.

"She wanted to make a difference, she said. She had no idea quite what an impact she would have.  Mobile phone footage of her bleeding to death on a pavement flashed around the world.

"It tore the last shreds of legitimacy from the regime, made her a global symbol of opposition to tyranny, and inspired the Green movement in a region where populations are all too easily cowed."



Middle East



By Thomas Erdbrink

Washington Post
December 26, 2009


TEHRAN -- Iran's opposition is gearing up for a potentially large demonstration against the government Sunday to coincide with the climax of a major Shiite religious commemoration.

The Rah-e Sabz Web site, a mouthpiece of the grass-roots opposition movement, called for nationwide protests around noon in the capital, which on Saturday was the scene of several clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police.

"Today was only a test to show our readiness," the Web site wrote in a statement that also denounced the government's use of violence during the present period of mourning for a Shiite saint.  "Tomorrow we will come out following the invitations of the social network Green Path Of Hope movement."

The demonstrations, which started after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed reelection in June, show no sign of winding down.  Pro-government forces, however, appear determined to stamp out the protests, which they say are illegal and organized with the help of foreign enemies.

Black-clad security forces clashed with anti-government protesters in northern Tehran on Saturday following a speech there by opposition leader and former president Mohammad Khatami. After the police intervened, thousands of protesters fanned out through the area.

The roads were clogged with cars, many honking their horns in support of the anti-government protesters.  About 50 armed pro-government supporters attacked a building used as an office by the household of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, according to witnesses and the parlemannews Web site, which is critical of the government.

Khomeini's children, who are known opposition supporters, were present as the windows were smashed.  "Abolfalz, the standard-bearer, keep Khamenei safe!" the attackers shouted, referring to a Shiite saint and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Web site reported.

"There are so many people on the streets, I am amazed," a member of the riot police said to his colleagues as he rested on his motorcycle in a north Tehran square.  Two women in traditional black chadors flashed victory signs to passing cars, egging them on to honk in support of the opposition.

Earlier, hundreds of police officers supported by dozens of members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the paramilitary Basij force had clashed with small groups of protesters along Enghelab (Revolution) Street, one of the capital's main thoroughfares, at times beating people in an effort to disperse them.  Some protesters shouted slogans in support of the political leader of the opposition, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

The protests, which followed anti-government demonstrations in three Iranian cities earlier this week, come as Iran observes the 10 days of Muharram, a mourning period for Imam Hussein, the Shiite saint whose death in the 7th century sealed the rift between Sunni and Shiite Muslims over the succession of the prophet Muhammad.  On Sunday, Shiites worldwide commemorate the day of his death during Ashura, meaning "10th" in Arabic.

This year, Ashura falls on the seventh day after the death of the opposition movement's religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.  Messages posted on the Internet and spread through Farsi-language opposition satellite channels have called for a large demonstration in the center of Tehran on Sunday, but opposition leaders have released no statements about such a gathering.

The violence used by security forces Saturday suggested that protests Sunday could be met with strong resistance.  The use of force by the state during this Shiite mourning period could inspire protesters to draw parallels with the circumstances of Hussein's death, whose small band of supporters fought a losing battle against a powerful and repressive army.

On the streets, protesters mostly fled the security forces.  In downtown Tehran, a young man in a gray sweatshirt jumped over a steel fence marking the street, but helmeted officers struck him down with batons and dragged him back by an arm and an ear.  Another man tried to stop officers beating a woman.  "Let her go!," he yelled, as cars honked in protest.

"The police have used minimum violence in countering political unrests, but when these unrests reach the point of causing destruction and chaos we counter it harshly," the commander of the national police force, Gen. Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam, said Saturday, according to the official student news agency ISNA.

Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, political leaders of the grass-roots anti-government movement, have remained silent on the protests organized through the Internet.  Two weeks ago, Khamenei, the supreme leader, gave them an indirect final warning, accusing them of challenging the country's political system.  But analysts said the two men's silence was intended to prevent opponents from accusing them of politicizing the country's most important religious event.

On Friday, people took to the streets in the Shiite holy city of Qom to demand the arrest of Mousavi, according to the semi-official Fars news agency, which supports the government and did not elaborate on the size of the protest.  "The people of Qom shouted slogans such as, 'Mousavi, Karroubi must be arrested!' and 'If Mousavi is arrested the sedition will end!' the agency reported.

The 10-day commemoration of the death of Imam Hussein is a sensitive period that not only defines Shiite Islam but also drives politics in Iran.  "Everything we have, we owe to Ashura," the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic republic, said repeatedly.

But the Ashura narrative has also played a role in the unrest following the disputed presidential election in June, with both supporters and opponents of the government laying claim to Hussein's mantle of victimhood.  Members of the opposition say they are the victims of a government-backed coup d' état by the Revolutionary Guard, while government supporters say that in rejecting the outcome of the election, the opposition has turned into a band of foreign-backed dictators, wanting to impose their will on the nation.

In 680, Hussein, the grandson of prophet Muhammad, received a letter from the people of present-day southern Iraq complaining of oppression under the caliph Yazid, his enemy.  He set out with his 72 companions to challenge the enormous armies, Shiites say.

For 10 days, Hussein and his family and followers roamed the desert plains near Karbala. Yazid, whom Shiites consider a sly, ruthless liar, offered to spare Hussein's life if he would swear allegiance to him, but Hussein refused. On the 10th and final day of the battle, Hussein and most of his party were killed, their heads impaled on spears and paraded around.

In southern Tehran on Saturday, people handed out food and children waved the green and red flags of Islam as they participated in the annual mourning period for Hussein.

"There is no other day like yours -- O Hussein," one banner read.  But a poster, depicting the supreme leader of Iran's Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei, had another text.  "Support your leadership," it read. "And your country will not be hurt."


World news

Middle East


By Hatef Baghi and Colin Freeman

** Iran's mullahs are braced for one of the strongest challenges to their authority since last summer's disputed elections, as anti-government campaigners planned new mass rallies to coincide with a Shia holy day on Sunday. **

December 26, 2009


Defying police orders to stay indoors, supporters of the country's pro-reformist movement used a text message campaign to urge hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to take to the streets.

They are capitalizing on the fact that Sunday marks the final day of the ten-day festival of Ashura, which commemorates the murder of Imam Hossein, one of Shia Islam's most revered figures.

Reformists have likened the tale of his martyrdom -- which strikes a powerful chord amongst Iranians -- to the government's violent suppression of last summer's street protests, in which dozens of people were killed.

Today also marks the symbolic seventh day of mourning for cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a fierce critic of regime hardliners, whose funeral last Monday turned into an anti-government demonstration in the city of Qom.

A source close to the reformist camp told the Sunday *Telegraph* that with two highly emotive occasions scheduled for the same day, it hoped to mobilise a "mass street presence" that could provide a decisive "turning point" in its campaign.

However, there were fears that an open confrontation could end in serious bloodshed.  Police in central Tehran fired shots on Saturday to disperse an early gathering of several hundred protesters, some of whom wore the green ribbons of the defeated presidential candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

"The Greens will find greater courage when they see their great numbers, the regime supporters will feel agitated when they see the crowd and hear chants they don't like," said one Tehran-based Iranian, who asked not to be named.  "This could be a potential recipe for trouble."

Police chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam issued a fresh warning on Saturday, saying:  "Police will severely crack down on rioters.  We will identify and arrest riot leaders."

The return to power of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last summer triggered the biggest protests the Islamic Republic has seen in its 30-year history.  While the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, has denied widespread claims that the vote was rigged, protests have flared up repeatedly ever since.

It was widely thought though that the sheer ferocity of the government crackdown, which saw thousands slung in jail, and reports of people being raped and beaten up while in custody, would eventually exhaust the protesters' capacity to absorb punishment, snuffing the movement out.

Recent days, however, have proved that it has endured.  Ayatollah Montazeri's funeral in Qom on Monday drew huge crowds, some of whom also shouted slogans against the Supreme Leader -- a sign that the revolt has gone beyond just Mr. Ahmadinejad to become a protest at the entire system of religious government.

The authorities have also ordered police and hardline religious groups to keep a watchful eye on today's Ashura religious pantomimes, which recreate the events leading up to the murder of Imam Hossein.

The pantomime stars a "villain" clad in red called Yazid, a Sunni Muslim caliph who ordered Hossein's slaying in the 7th century.  At Ayatollah Montazeri's funeral on Monday, anti-regime demonstrators shouted slogans of "Rape, atrocities, an unworthy government -- Yazid will fall" -- a clear comparison between Yazid and the Supreme Leader.  For the man who is supposed to be the spiritual leader of the world's biggest Shia community, there could not be a greater insult.

To add to the symbolism, Hossein traditionally appears in the pantomime dressed in green, the emblematic color of Islam, which is not also the signature hue of the opposition's flags and banners.

Police, clerics, and government officials have all made statements in recent days ordering people to keep politics out of the religious festivities.  In some districts of affluent northern Tehran, where support for the reformist movement is strongest, the main Ashura festivals have been cancelled altogether by official edict.

Nonetheless, spontaneous protests have been taking place.  Yesterday, an elderly woman travelling on a city bus in the downtown area of Tehran was heard urging passengers to chant slogans such as "Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein," linking the imam's name with that of the opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

A witness said that passengers on the packed bus also chanted "Our Neda is not dead, it is the government which is dead," referring to protester Neda Agha Soltan, who died after being shot by security forces during June's protests.

"Ashura will play a major role in determining how things develop from here," added one Iranian.  "A large turn out by the people would be more than just a further irritation for the regime.  It would be an indication that the 6-month crackdown has been unsuccessful in arresting the momentum of the opposition and would give an enormous boost of confidence to the Greens."

With its leaders facing arrest if they attempt to orchestrate protests, the reformist movement communicates virally through SMS, social networking sites, and email.  There is no real central planning -- partly to stay one step ahead of the authorities -- so most events and gatherings arise spontaneously, hence their tendency to crystallize around fixed events in the religious calendar.  Protesters also now believe that despite its threats, the régime has become wary of using brute force too freely, fearing that more killings will create more martyrs.

"The people believe that the régime is tired and frustrated and is therefore prone to making mistakes," said one.  "But it is clear that the official security forces, though acting forcefully, are tending not to use extreme force.  Batons are directed at arms and legs and the primary directive seems to be to disperse and to arrest rather than to maim and kill."

The reformist movement has posed a dilemma for Western governments, who are anxious for it to succeed in order to divert Iran from the increasingly hardline path it has taken under Mr. Ahmadinejad.  A less confrontational regime in Tehran would be easier to reach a compromise with on the issue of Iran's disputed nuclear program, which is likely to come to a head in the New Year.

So far, though, both Britain [and] America have steered clear of offering any overt support, fearful that it would backfire by allowing Mr. Ahmadinejad to paint the reformists as agents of foreign powers.  The Obama administration believes that the approach of George W Bush, who famously said Iran was part of an "axis of evil,, was unnecessarily confrontational.

Former Bush officials, though, believe that Obama's anxiety to engage with Tehran to reach a deal on the nuclear issue is preventing Washington from sending out a clear moral message.

"How can they argue that Obama is beloved and respected all over the globe, but were he to support the Iranian opposition he would harm them?" asked Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and George W. Bush's former deputy national security advisor for global democracy strategy.

"They should adopt the model that Ronald Reagan used with the Soviets -- he negotiated, but called them an evil empire that would end on the ash heap of history."