Regime Cracks down Again in Tehran; But Hard Liners Question Brutal Tactics

The political opposition in Iran held commemorations in Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Ahvaz and Rasht for the deaths of protesters at the hands of security forces on June 20, especially for Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman whose last moments on videotape became a heartbreaking sensation throughout the world. In Shiite Islam, mourning sessions are conducted for the deceased after 40 days as well as at other times. The technique of building larger and larger crowds locally helps the movement expand and avoid losing momentum.

Reports say that hundreds (some even say thousands) showed up at Tehran’s main seminary to mourn Neda and the others. Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard attempted to visit the grave, but were turned away by security forces.

Hundreds also gathered at the Musalla Mosque in downtown Tehran, but were dispersed by security forces with tear gas and life ammunition. Clashes continued into the night.

Aljazeera English has video, including amateur video, of the cemetery protest:

More amateur video of Thursday’s cemetery protests is here:

Even the hard liners have been disturbed by the ferocity of the crackdown on protesters.

Member of Parliament Hosain Ibrahimi announced Thursday that of the 300 protesters he said the regime had in custody, 140 had been released and all but a handful of the rest would be let go in the next few weeks. The regime has said that it will try about 20 of the protesters.

Although Ibrahimi was underestimating the number of prisoners of conscience being held, that such officials feel a need to make conciliatory announcements of this sort suggests that the scale of the arrests is an issue for centrists and even some hard liners, not just for reformers.

Today’s (Friday’s) edition of Jumhuri-yi Islami (Islamic Republic) carried an article criticizing the deaths in prison of some protesters who had been arrested. The article goes [courtesy the USG Open Source Center], “For some time now there has been a series of reports in informal media on the deaths of detainees from recent events (protests following the June presidential elections), which have prompted extensive concerns in society and especially among the families of detained people. Of course relevant officials have generally remained silent in response to these reports and news in some media and official reactions have been restricted to particular cases like the deaths of Mohsen Ruholamini and Sohrab E’rabi. . . At that time when the soldiers of Islam captured a member of the enemy military, though they knew that moments before he had pointed his gun at them, they dealt with their prisoner with kindness and mercy. They gave him food and water and bound his wounds, and these were treated humanely in prisoners’ camps. This humane and Islamic treatment led many prisoners to change in their time of captivity and some later joined Iran’s army (or the Sepah/revolutionary guards), fought on the front and were even martyred. . .If officials were saying until yesterday that rioters armed with weapons presented by America and Israel had killed people, there is no sign of these armed and dependent people in prison now, and the detained are being guarded by agents. One cannot link any threats to their lives to foreign powers. The most logical issue it seems then is that certain agents have either improperly carried out their legal duties in guarding the detained, or have gone to extremes above the law in the way they have treated them, and brought about this situation. In this sense those responsible are undoubtedly liable to prosecution as no law permits this violent treatment or killing of individuals before any charges are proven and a definitive sentence issued.”

The call for the punishment of security men who abused prisoners to death, on the part of a hard line newspaper, is remarkable. The condemnation of extra-judicial punishment is likewise not what you would expect from a Khomeinist organ (but that is what this newspaper is). But note that one of the protesters alleged to have been killed in prison was the son of a prominent campaign activist for the hard line former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Mohsen Reza’i, one of the presidential condidates who initially, at least, protested the way the June 12 presidential election was conducted. When you off the children of prominent hard line politicians in jail, it does not go unnoticed.

Three prisoners, including the two mentioned by Jumhuri-yi Islami above, were said to have died in Kahrizak prison. These deaths were loudly condemned by reform leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. As a result, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei closed Kahrizak earlier this week, presumably to deprive the reformists of a symbol of the regime’s murderousness and to remove a blot on the escutcheon of the Islamic Republic.

In a way, these killings of prisoners is functioning like the shooting of Kent State protesters by National Guardsmen in 1970 in the US, which helped turn a lot of fence-sitters against the Vietnam War. In this case, the harshness of the methods deployed by the hard liners is becoming repulsive even to other hard linters. Remember that they view themselves as highly ethical and as acting in accordance with islamic norms, and these deaths challenge their own self-image.

Likewise, the hard line Mashhad journal, Khorasan from Thursday, July 30, 2009, quoted Iran’s national police chief Brig. General Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam as saying [courtesy USG OSC], “Some commanders went to excess during some of those events, and while pursuing the rioters they inflicted some losses on the people.” Ahmadi-Moqaddam continued: “My concern is that nobody should act beyond the limits of the law.” He added: “As the result of the orders that have been issued, some steps have been taken to respond to people’s complaints and to win their hearts.”

That quote suggests to me that Iranian law enforcement is perceiving a lot of hostility from the public over the crackdown on protesters, and its high officials are therefore attempting to reduce tensions. A regime only has to worry about winning people’s hearts if it has lost them.

Meanwhile, reformist former president Mohammad Khatami denounced the steps taken by the hard liners with regard to abuse of protesters and of prisoners as insufficient, demanding genuine accountability rather than euphemisms. When Khamenei closed the Kahrizak prison, he said it was because the facilities were inadequate. Khatami replied Thursday, “”it is not enough to say that a sub-standard detention center has been shut down. What does ‘sub-standard’ mean? . . . Does it mean that a ventilation fan was faulty or its washrooms were not clean? Lives have been lost and our dear youth, women and men have been subjected to certain treatments. . . On the issue of detainees… Of course, they must be released, but that is not enough.”

Khatami also called for a parliamentary investigation of the June 12 presidential election.

In short, the reformers are coming as close as you can to a direct public condemnation of Khamenei as you can come in Iran and remain out of jail.

Demanding accountability for crimes already committed and threatening a parliamentary investigation also may forestall further crimes (something that the US Democratic Party does not seem to realize with regard to the crimes of of the W. Bush officials).

The reformist daily Aftab-i Yazd on Thursday carried an impassioned denunciation of the election fraud and the crackdown on protests [courtesy of USG OSC]:

‘It is difficult to remain silent or speak out in the current situation. We cannot remain silent because the future on which Iran’s and Islam’s capital have been spent is in danger. It is also impossible to speak freely because some people are inclined to label every critic as a spy, connected (to enemies), or non-believer. . .

The events that took place after the 22 Khordad (12 June) election were bitter and painful for any Iranian nationalist who is loyal to the God’s law. . . This initial sadness did not prolong for a long time. The country and people witnessed events that resulted in increasing the anxiety of some families and bloodshed of others. . . this situation gave rise to advice and protests from reformist leaders. Some well-known principle-ists also criticized these incidents and their criticisms showed that their views are different with the government faction of principle-ists. They protested about the lack of attention to the demands of protesters. . .

Today, nobody can call the killing of a youth (Mohsen Ruholamini) during the unrest as a scenario created by foreigners and increase the problems of the dead person’s family by their ignorance. This is because the person who was killed in the recent events is a person from their own faction.

Over the past few weeks, they urged the protesters to pursue their protests through legal means. This would be a wise suggestion and would result in maximum achievements in fewer expenses, if the officials were completely loyal to the laws. Are they loyal to the law? If yes, then why do they not allow the protesters to use their rights to protest according to the Article 27 of the constitution? Why do they deal with the protestors in this manner? The well-known principle-ists figures have also protested about their conduct.’

The point made here, that the lawless conduct of the regime undermines its authority, is crucial. That a writer could make it in print in today’s Iran is nothing short of incredible. But it seems to me as though either there will be an even more Draconian press crackdown soon, or the regime will have to seek some sort of compromise.

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