This is a live-blog report on events in Iran on December 16, 2010, during the Shia mourning day of Ashura. As reports come in, they will be placed at the top of this page. To read this in chronological order it must be read from the bottom up.
[8:30AM Tehran Time – December 17, 2010]
With Ashura day behind us now, the most striking aspect of the day appears to be that it was–in the words of Dr. Scott Lucas on EAWorldView– a non-event. No protests, no major clashes, or dissent. Aside from videos showing the significant security presence, and government sanctioned Ashura mourning processions, not much happened.
The Christian Science Monitor has written an interesting analysis of what lies below the surface of the seeming calm. In the piece, author and Iran watcher, Nader Hashemi, is quoted with regards to the events following last year’s Ashura, after the regime was able to stop the protesters from co-opting regime-sponsored holidays for themselves through repression:
…the regime declared “victory” over the leaders of “sedition.” But at what cost? “We’re in a very dark period,” says Nader Hashemi, co-editor of a forthcoming book of essays by Iran specialists called “The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future.”
“What happened after Ashura last year…the regime in Iran upped the ante in terms of the cost it was willing to inflict on the population, and it started to engage in a policy of targeted assassinations…and then a series of executions,” says Mr. Hashemi, who teaches at the University of Denver. On top of that, the regime “arrested every leading prominent civil society, human rights, and pro-democracy activist…every single one across the spectrum was imprisoned,” recalls Hashemi.
Since then, there has not been another Green Movement street protest – though opposition leaders have produced many angry and defiant statements while under virtual house arrest in Tehran. “It’s a realization that the streets have now been won by the regime,” says Hashemi.
The previous opposition strategy of hijacking key official events has “been shut,” so the new strategy is to “engage in a process of reflection, social networking, and organization to raise critical consciousness, and to basically just try and keep the movement alive, waiting for another opportunity where they manifest their presence and push forward their pro-democracy agenda,” Hashemi says.
The government may have the tools of coercion and state media, he says, “but where the regime is very weak – and there is a lot of evidence to support this – the regime is ideologically weak, and it’s suffered a huge crisis of legitimacy.”
A crisis of legitimacy and the fact that people’s hearts and minds are forever changed after the regime revealed its undemocratic, brutal, totalitarian face means that the embers below the ashes still glow.
The question is when not if they will turn into a roaring flame again. The conditions need to be right. And as we’ve seen several times in Iran since the revolution in 1979 that brought this regime to power, the tinder gets very dry from time to time…
[2:45PM Tehran Time]
Arshama3 has tweeted that the website, Tagheer, is back up and running again, after it had been purportedly hacked or somehow taken down earlier. The website is affiliated with prominent green cleric and former presidential candidate, Mehdi Karroubi.
[2:30PM Tehran Time]
Video purportedly from today showing sparse procession of government-sanctioned Ashura mourners (no reason to doubt – weather matches, as does fact that very few people are in the streets considering the importance of Ashura – consistent with reports of very few mourners in the streets). (via SabzBrach):
[2:10PM Tehran Time]
Bsalamati has provided a link to a blog purportedly of an eye-witness account from today in Tehran. The blogger states that Imam Hossein Square is “full of officers” and Hafte-Tir Square is “in the hands of Army forces and resources of the religious delegation”.
The blogger suggests that people may come out later in the afternoon. We are treating this with caution.
[2:00PM Tehran Time]
Iran state media based in England, Press TV, has already started to point the blame towards US and Israel for the Chabaha mosque bombing (via EAWorldView):
“The recent terrorist attack in southeastern Iran is part of a US-Israel strategy to involve Iranian ethnic groups, especially Baluchis, in terrorism, an expert says.”
The regime spin should start to kick into overdrive soon.
[1:40PM Tehran Time]
Two more vids from Tehran today showing heavy security presence in the streets:
Eghelab (Revolution) Square:
[1:30PM Tehran Time]
Like clock-work almost, the first video from today shows up. The voice on the video clearly states, “Ashura 89” (as it is 1389 in the Islamic calendar I think it’s safe to assume the video is legit). Shows heavy police and security presence in the streets. Clearly the regime is leaving nothing to chance:
[1:00PM Tehran Time]
A trusted colleague of ours has stressed that we should be cautious about the report about Sohrab Arabi’s mother being arrested. The report may be related to an occurrence from earlier in the month. So we are strongly stressing caution on the earlier report and will hold it as unconfirmed until proven otherwise.
Earlier this month a group of mourners, including the mother of slain protester Sohrab Arabi, was detained at Behehst-e Zahra cemetery. Three of those mourners are still held.
Our colleague also stressed caution over the IranPressNews.info report we mentioned earlier.
We are receiving some corroborating reports from other sources, but we are stressing caution until more information comes in.
[12:50PM Tehran Time]
We have an unconfirmed report that three people may have been arrested in Imam Hossein Square in Tehran, where apparently motorists that were present started honking their car horns in protest.
[12:34PM Tehran Time]
Human Rights Activist News Agency confirms that security forces are threatening the families of martyrs of the green movement. The report claims that the mother of Sohrab Arabi, one of the well-known martyrs from the protests the followed the 2009 rigged presidential election, was “arrested and interrogated” for several hours before being let go.
This is quite interesting. It fits with the pattern that the regime has shown in dealing with the “well-knowns” of the movement. The regime has gone out of its way to intimidate and harass Mousavi, Karroubi, and others, but has stopped short of actually arresting them. The same goes for the family of Neda Agha Soltan, the young woman who we all saw bleed to death before our eyes from the videos that came out of Iran during one of the protests that followed Khamenei’s declaration of war on the protesters. Her mother, father, sister and brother were all interviewed for a documentary that was widely seen internationally, against the wishes of the regime. They have not been touched.
Harassing the families of the green martyrs, and harassing the green movement spokepeople and leaders, as well as jailing and torturing various dissidents and journalists are all part of a combined but disjointed approach by the regime to control people through fear of reprisals. Not sure how long that will last.
[12:02PM Tehran Time]
Reports are starting to trickle in of heavy presence of security forces throughout areas in Iran. IranPressNews.info reports that “fear and anxiety” are high as an atmosphere resembling martial law takes hold of the city of Tehran. Security forces and riot police with masks and batons, some on motorcycles, are present in various squares throughout the city, including Imam Hossein Square and Revolution Square.
Josh Shahryar has an unconfirmed report of helicopters over Tehran. In the past these were present on protest days and may have been used for crowd control purposes.
[11:30AM Tehran Time]
James Miller reports on his site, DissectedNews.com, that some clashes have been reported on the eve of Ashura, in Esfahan last night near the home of dissident cleric Ayatollah Taheri.
Josh Shahryar, shared on his site DailyNiteOwl.com a report from Rahesabz about how the regime has “sternly” warned families of slain protesters against mourning in public, and that they have asked the media not to report on any such mourning ceremonies if they are held.
[10:38AM Tehran Time]
Radio Zamaneh reports that arrests have been made for the mosque bombing in Chabahar:
The authorities announced earlier that they had stopped and arrested one of the perpetrators of the attack and prevented him from carrying out a further attack, while another was killed in the explosion. Iranian Interior Minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar announced that a Security Council meeting will be held regarding this terrorist attack and maintained that they have managed to gather a number of useful clues about the operation.
He went on to add that these terrorists are “elements of the world arrogance” and had been trained in Pakistan. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission claimed British and US intelligence forces are supporters of the Chabahar terrorist attack. Britain has however condemned the attacks emphasizing that they are against any form of terrorist operations.
How this story pans out will be very interesting. For years now Jundullah has been operating within Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province. Their goal appears to be regionally autonomous government. The Iranian government has alleged that the U.S. has provided support to the terrorist group, under the Bush administration.
In a must-read 2008 piece for the New Yorker, Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran, investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh reported on the disastrous policies of the Bush administration with respect to Iran. He quotes Robert Baer, former CIA operative who worked out of Lebanon during the Hezbullah hostage-taking years in the 80s:
The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.
One of the most active and violent anti-regime groups in Iran today is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement, which describes itself as a resistance force fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran. “This is a vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists,” Nasr told me. “They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture.” The Jundallah took responsibility for the bombing of a busload of Revolutionary Guard soldiers in February, 2007. At least eleven Guard members were killed. According to Baer and to press reports, the Jundallah is among the groups in Iran that are benefitting from U.S. support.
With President Obama and Secretary Clinton both condemning the mosque bombing that occurred today, one has to wonder whether their condemnations will have the desired effect. The fact that it is well-known now that the U.S. supported the Sunni terrorist group Jundallah will likely result in significant blowback in the form of the regime in Iran being able to use it to blame the U.S. for the attacks. On the other hand, it is obvious that Obama (at least publicly) doesn’t want to be associated with the group. He has some leeway in that he can say, “Hey, it wasn’t me – it was my predecessor that was in bed with them,” and many will believe him. But for the die-hard Islamists within the regime, and in the Muslim world in general, it will look like hypocritical. They don’t care who the current U.S. president is. To them, the American Empire is evil, and they will use the past support to justify continued crackdowns on the legitimate, peaceful opposition.
Unfortunately, the blowback of the Bush administration’s involvement with shady terror groups like Jundallah is likely that the regime will be able to convince its repressive forces that they are justified in their repression of the people of Iran, giving them–at least temporarily–a longer hold on power in Iran, despite the fact that the majority of Iranians want them out. If that is not the ultimate irony then I don’t know what is.
It would suit Obama well to come clean. If he is aware of U.S. involvement with the terror group he should fess up to it, blame Bush, and wash his hands of it. He should do this publicly so as not to allow the regime room to lay blame on the U.S.
[10:05AM Tehran Time]
Radio Zamaneh reports that Mohammad Nourizad has been vomiting blood, likely due to the fact that he is on a hunger strike to protest his unjust detention by the regime. Hunger strikes are an extreme measure that political prisoners in Iran often take as a last resort to try to get attention on their cases.
Another journalist, also a political prisoner in Iran since the rigged election last year, Issa Saharkhiz (father of our friend Mehdi Saharkhiz) is said to be in critical condition.
[8:13AM Tehran Time]
AFP reports that Obama has condemned the suicide bombing in Iran today:
“I strongly condemn the outrageous terrorist attack on a mosque in Chabahar, Iran,” Obama said in a written statement.
“The murder of innocent civilians in their place of worship during Ashura is a despicable offense, and those who carried it out must be held accountable. This is a disgraceful and cowardly act.”
Obama said such acts recognized no religious, political, or national boundaries, adding that the United States condemned terrorism wherever it occurs.
“The United States stands with the families and loved ones of those killed and injured, and with the Iranian people, in the face of this injustice,” he said.
The report also quotes Hillary Clinton:
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also condemned the attack and extended condolences to the families of the victims.
“This is yet another example of terrorists using cowardly methods to inflict pain and fear on innocent civilians,” she said, adding the perpetrators must must “be held to account” for what they did.
“The United States condemns all forms of terrorism and sectarian-driven violence, wherever it occurs, and we stand with the victims of these abhorrent and reprehensible acts,” the chief US diplomat said.
[8:45AM Tehran Time]
A suicide bombing at a mosque in Chabahar in Sistan-Baluchistan province has killed over 41 people. The Sunni-rebel group, Jundullah, has claimed responsibility. It is likely not a coincidence that this has occurred on the eve of Ashura Day.
There are reports circulating that several opposition websites were hacked today. On days of protest this is not uncommon, as supporters and elements of the regime try to block news of events from getting out of Iran. The sites that we are aware of that were effected are affiliated with Mehdi Karroubi: Saham News and Tagheer.
[8:15AM Tehran Time]
Citizen journalist, Persianbanoo reports that Mehdi Karroubi has met with the family of jailed political prisoner, Mohammad Nourizad. Mr. Nourizad has written a number of letters in which he has implicated the regime in torture of political prisoners, as well as admonished the regime’s leaders.
Persianbanoo has also posted a Rahesabz report on a letter written by Nourizad to his wife while in Evin Prison.
[7:35AM Tehran Time]
A video from last year’s Ashura has been posted on Twitter that I had not seen till today. It may be a new one from last year. I recognize the setting as there are several similar videos posted in the live-blog from last year that have some of the same landmarks. While it is from last year, I am posting it because it captures the essence of what was done to the Iranian people on that day, on that most-bloody day.
WARNING: THIS IS EXTREMELY GRAPHIC – THIS MAY BE VERY DISTURBING TO SOME VIEWERS AND NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN:
The video shows protesters gathered in a street in Tehran. There is a general commotion. You can hear shouts in the distance, and the occasional scuffle. At 3:50 in the video someone shouts “They killed somebody!” and as a group of people carrying a dead person’s body arrive. The anguish and anger in their voices is palpable as they run down the street carrying the body of someone killed by the regime.
[7:20AM Tehran Time]
We have nothing to report yet as the networks are quiet right now. It’s still quite early in the morning. On the last few protest days reports and videos haven’t started trickling in till around noon or 1pm Tehran time.
While we wait, here is an interesting compilation, a mix of clips from last year, interspersed with reports from various media, produced by someone who clearly supports the green movement:
[4:30AM Tehran Time]
Last year, the day of Ashura was on December the 27th. In Iran, the day was marked by massive anti-government protests and a bloody crackdown by the Islamic Republic regime’s security forces in which scores of protesters where arrested and thrown into Iran’s prisons. The regime police and volunteer Basij militia forces resorted to murder in the form of shootings, throwing people off of bridges, and running them over. Opposition leader, and presidential candidate in the June 2009 presidential election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, lost a relative that day as well. His nephew was shot and killed by security forces whilst protesting.
One week prior to Ashura last year, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, dissident cleric passed away. Montazeri was once slated to replace the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, as the Supreme Leader, before he fell out of favor with Khomeini and the power brokers of the regime when he objected to the regime’s excesses (mass killings of political prisoners in the 80s).
After the June 2009 presidential election, Montazeri became the defacto spiritial guide for the budding Green Movement. He denounced the crackdowns and the current Supreme Leader, Khamenei.
When Montazeri passed away one week before last year’s Ashura, Khamenei made the mistake of disrespecting him. Opposition website, Rahesabz, reported Khamenei as “asking Allah to forgive Montazeri”, saying:
“Toward the end of the Imam’s [Montazeri’s] life there came a time of a great and dangerous test and I ask God in all his compassion to forgive him [Montazeri for failing that test] and consider his [Montazeri’s] earthly struggles as a punishment (collateral) for that [failed test].”
This was the same Khamenei that, for the past six months (between June and December of 2009), had unleashed the vast security apparatus of the state to crush internal dissent. This did not sit well with people and the snub of the revered Ayatollah Montazeri backfired on him.
The seventh day after the death of someone is considered an important day of mourning in the Shia faith. For Montazeri, his seventh day fell on the day of Ashura.
It was a very potent combination — and the streets exploded in protest. We live-blogged it here:
On the following day, Barack Obama expressed solidarity with the Iranian people:
The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in detentions, injuries and even death. For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days. And each time that has happened the world has watched with deep admiration for the courage and conviction of the Iranian people, who are a part of Iran’s great and enduring civilization. What is talking place within Iran is not about the United States or any other country. It is about the Iranian people and their aspirations for justice and a better life for themselves. The decision of Iran’s leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not succeed in making those aspirations go away. As I said in Oslo, it’s telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. Along with all free nations the United States stands with those who seek their universal rights. We call upon the Iranian government to abide by the international obligations that it has to respect the rights of its own people. We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained within Iran. We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that have taken place and I’m confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice.
The day was one of the bloodiest days of protest since the rigged election of last year. The wave of repression that followed has continued to this day.
In February of this year, the regime held rallies to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic. By flooding the streets of Tehran with Basij and security forces bussed in from around the country, they were successful at keeping planned opposition protests from generating large crowds. This was seen by some as a sign that the opposition movement in Iran was waning.
Far from it. There have been several days of protests in the streets since, but more subdued. Street protests are risky in Iran. The regime has shown that it is willing to kill in cold-blood to keep power. Unfortunately, these subsequent days of protest didn’t receive much press from the mainstream media. It seems that unless millions are in the streets, the story can’t get traction. One has to wonder why that is.
In March, when Khamenei ordered people not to celebrate the ancient Persian fire festival of Chahar Shanbe Suri people defied the order, celebrating the day with a passion that had rarely been seen since the revolution that brought the Islamic Republic into existence.
Nobody could predict what ultimately happened. In the end, even though there was a massive regime security presence, people did manage to get into groups and protest, as can be seen in the videos below. While the volume of protesters amassed in any given area was nowhere near the millions we saw marching in unison in non-violent, silent protest last year, even the fact that so many people did protest can be considered yet another victory for the people’s movement. This is because considering the explicit threat of violence from the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, and the track record of brutal crackdowns by the regime, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to go out and do what we witnessed people do today.
Just over a week ago, on Iran’s National Students’ Day on December 7th, students across that nation protested in solidarity with student political prisoners held by the regime. This did not get much coverage in the mainstream media, aside from a few outlets.
The attention these days appears to be more focused on the nuclear talks, to the benefit of a regime that wants nothing more than to distract attention from the internal crisis of legitimacy that it is suffering from, and also from the story of the opposition and the political prisoners. Anything that takes the world’s attention off of the abysmal human rights record of the regime helps them.
The recent Students’ Day protests revealed that the green movement is far from being crushed. If anything it is proceeding with more caution, slowly ratcheting up the pressure on the regime in other ways than just via street protests. It is important for this story to get out. It is important that conscientious journalists with the power to reach millions talk about it. It is said that injustice anywhere is an affront to justice everywhere. The story of the injustice in Iran of the regime towards its own people must get out if we want to live in a world where fascism and fundamentalism is a thing of the past.
At the end of the day, it will be the people of Iran that will change their government. Any other alternative is simply unacceptable (as Iraq and Afghanistan have shown). The people of Iran have shown consistently since their vote was stolen last year that they are ready to make a change for a better future for themselves, and by extension the world. The least we can do is to help them keep the world’s eyes focused on their story.
Now will anything happen during this year’s Ashura Day? I will monitor the social networks and stay in touch with my sources. Stay tuned. As always, I will report anything I find here.
For now, here is a video of a type that has become a staple on nights before an anticipated day of protest. People chant “Allah-o-Akbar” (God is Great) and “Marg bar dictator” (Death to the dictator) from their balconies and roofs of their apartments in Tehran, in defiance of a regime that purports to represent God on earth, purportedly from the night before Ashura day in Iran: