[Translated from Libération (Paris)]
IRAN: "MY WHOLE BODY WAS TREMBLING, TOO, BUT FROM PAIN"
By Reza Nasseri
** A young participant and spontanteous organizer describes violence at the June 20 Tehran demonstration **
June 29, 2009
--As arrests multiply in Iran, Libération is publishing the account of a young participant in the peaceful demonstration on June 20, which was repressed in a particularly violent manner by the régime. Only his name has been modified.
"I got to Freedom [Azadi] Avenue at 2:00 p.m. The demonstrations were supposed to begin at 4:00 p.m. On the program: a rally and a peaceful march from Revolution Square to Freedom Square, along the thoroughfare with the same name. I came early to take a look at the situation and prepare myself as well as I could for what might happen. Before going to Freedom Avenue I went to kiss my mother to ask her to forgive me for all the promises that I had not been able to keep in case I never saw her again. I had a feeling that the day was going to be bloody.
"When I got there things were already tense. A very large number of antiriot police, Revolutionary Guards, and basiji ['mobilized,' members of Islamic militias -- Ed. note] were there, placed at the intersections of adjacent streets. The closer I got to Revolution Square, the more terrifiyng the scene promised to be. The police were wearing bullet-proof vests, the Revolutionary Guards, too, with helmets screwed onto their skulls. The antiriot police were wearing their traditional black 'robocop' uniform. Every street corner was blocked by groups of seven to ten 'ordinary' police and a few basijis. Lots of Revolutionary Guards were crossing the street on their powerful motorcycles.
"2:15 p.m. The portable telephone poles were cut to make all communication among the demonstrators, the organizers, and the Reform Mouvement leaders impossible. At the last demonstrations, the organizers had arrived early and volunteers led the crowd. This time the leaders were arrested and the crowd seemed confused, not knowing how the day was going to be led and organized.
"Why did lots of people come anyway when everybody or almost everybody agrees in saying that this is one of the most feared régimes? What disappointment could have been great enough to impel men and women, young and not so young, to come into the streets? Iranians are a proud people. Proud of their ancient heritage, proud of their culture. Even if the majority of them are Muslims, they still believe in the old sacred rule of the "three G's": good thoughts, good actions, and good words. What disgusts an Iranian more than anything is lying. And even more when the lie is exposed and the liar continues to deny it.
"2:30 p.m. You could see that the crowd was growing bigger and the tension was palpable. People were calmly watching the maneuvers of the paramilitary and antiriot police. I met a few activist friends and discussed the situation. Every two minutes, a policeman came up to us and asked us not to stop, to keep walking. So we went toward Revolution Square. But as we approached that place, we saw it was completely blocked by security forces and that no one was allowed to go there.
"So we went down an adjacent street and sat down at a café. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Medhi Karroubi, the other reformist candidate, were supposed to be there, but it was clear that the police were determined to nip the demonstration in the bud, even before it began, using force if necessary. Maybe they thought that without organizers people would be dissuaded from throwing themselves into the mouth of the wolf... The mouth of the wolf: that's what Revolution Square looked like.
"I got on the back of a motor scooter and asked the driver to take me to Freedom Square. There were even more police there, antiriot units and basiji units. I turned back to find my friends and discuss the situation.
"3:30 p.m. Since there was no way to communicate with the other demonstrators, we decided to organize the march at 4:15 p.m., even if the organizers still weren't there. People were already beginning to pour out of the adjacent streets that go toward Freedom Avenue.
"3:45 p.m. We left the café after deciding to split up into three groups of two. A friend and I were supposed to encourage people to march toward the ministry of labor, halfway between Freedom Avenue and Freedom Square, about two kilometers away. I noticed a crowd of confused people waiting for an indication of what to do. Most were young men and girls between 18 and 25. Some had come with their parents, others with their children, and still others in family groups to participate in a peaceful march and support the Reform Movement. Contrary to what you might think, I wasn't afraid, on the contrary. I was proud to be taking an active part in the protest against a goverment of lies and betrayal.
"We reached the ministry of labor around 4:10 p.m. We stood there while I smoked a cigarette, trying not to look at the massive wall formed by the riot police and trying not to attract attention. The other team soon arrived on the other side of the street.
"I hopped into a store to buy myself a pack of cigarettes and not knowing how much time the demonstration would last and, since it was hot, two bottles of mineral water. Maybe it wasn't that hot and I was just so excited at the idea of what might happen.
"4:15 p.m. My friend and I began to march slowly and to murmur to people passing: 'Join us.' We took care that the security forces didn't notice us.
"4:30 p.m. I didn't look back to see how many people had gathered in response to our murmured invitation, but to judge by the expression on the faces of people standing there, the signs made by passengers in cars, and the V-for-victory signs in our direction, I got the idea that the crowd was beginning to gather. It was when they looked at it that some decided to join us. I continued to murmur: 'Join the march,' or 'Stay calm, walk slowly,' or 'Don't look at the security forces.' We passed a wall of antiriot police. I took out my cell phone and I filmed them while trying not to attract their attention.
"4:45 p.m. From the other side of the street, my friends had also gathered a large crowd. As we got to the gates of Sharif University, the passing cars began to honk and wave to us. Passers-by clapped their hands and gave the victory sign. A bus full of passengers waved to us but that was nothing compared to the reception we got when we arrived at the gates of Sharif University. Soon slogans were shouted: 'Mousavi, Mousavi, we support you!' I urged everybody to stay calm. Without success. Oh my God! What a huge crowd.
"We were chanting our support to the students. But things were getting out of hand and I guessed that we were going to be targeted soon. I told people to get out of the street, but there were too many people. A wall of antiriot police formed a line to stop us from advancing. My friend and I asked the demonstrators to turn back toward Revolution Square and not to challenge the police. But the huge crowd had nowhere to go and people were arriving from everywhere.
"5:30 p.m. We had succeeded in moving 500 meters back toward Revolution Square, where we found the second group, led by my two other friends. People felt more confident. They raised their hands in the victory sign. The police approached and asked us kindly to lower our arms. We obeyed. Some people protested and we asked them to stay quiet. It was at that moment that all hell was unleashed on us.
"Police motorcycles attacked us from both sides. On the back of each one there was a man hitting with a stick. People were pushed into corners. The motorcyclists attacked and hit us. People fell on one another screaming and running all over the place.
"I noticed that a driver had abandoned his car to help us. He was severely beaten by three policemen. People were screaming because they saw the beating we were getting.
"Most of the members of my group were women of all ages, mothers, girls, and even a grandmother and her granddaughter. They all were beaten. Very quickly, a group of about 50 police on foot joined in beating the crowd. One of them grabbed me, shouting: 'I'm going to kill you, you bastards.' He hit me on my back, then on my shoulder and my upper legs. Then he raised his stick to hit me on the head but I managed to block him with my left hand, which quickly turned black and blue. After a few minutes of intense beating of a defenseless group, pushed into a corner with no way out, the police backed up and we began to run into an adjacent street. That's when we were surprised by the basijis who were waiting for us and who continued to hit us.
"Several people came up to defend us and man-to-man fighting began. A lot were bleeding, men, women, and even little girls. The street was in a state of shock and anger. People cried 'Death to the dictator!' Shopkeepers and passers-by started to insult everything related to the régime. Girls were trembling and crying.
"My whole body was trembling, too, but from pain, and this pain gave me a different feeling. I was proud and satisfied. Now people picked up stones and threw them at the police and the basijis. I watched the scene and I smiled. I thanked God I was only wounded. I took care not to be attacked any more.
"Then people started laying into the security forces. The march had succeeded. It had shown the brutal face of the régime when confronted by peaceful marchers, in broad daylight, in front of everybody.
"I was done for the day. It was now the turn of youth and more energetic people to continue the battle into the night."
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Chair, Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003