Thursday, June 25, 2009

Riot police crush protests in Tehran amid allegations of brutality

Authorities respond to protests with
armed riot police and militiamen
June 24 | Martin Fletcher

It was a far cry from the massive demonstrations of last week. Today, just a few hundred protesters converged on Baharestan Square, opposite the Iranian Parliament, and they were brutally repulsed.

It was an exercise in courageous futility, not a contest. Thousands of riot police and militiamen flooded the area. They used teargas, batons and overwhelming force. Helicopters hovered overhead. Nobody was allowed to stop or to gather, let alone exercise their constitutional right to protest.

A video clip posted on YouTube showed young men and women, their faces concealed behind bandanas, throwing stones by a burning barricade and chanting “Death to the Dictator”.

Twitter was flooded with lurid messages. “They pull away the dead — like factory — no human can do this,” said one. “They catch people with mobile — so many killed today — so many injured,” said another. “In Baharestan we saw militia with axe chopping ppl like meat — blood everywhere,” said a third.

All that can be said for certain is the regime has finally recaptured the streets through strength of numbers and the unrestrained use of violence. Thirty years after the Iranian revolution it no longer rules with consent, but with military might, and it is cracking down with all means at its disposal.

“Neither the system nor the people will give in to pressures at any price,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, declared on state-controlled television today. “I will insist on implementation of the law.”

Saeed Mortazavi, an Iranian prosecutor notorious for his abuse of prisoners, has been put in charge of arresting and investigating dissidents.

Mr Mortazavi has a long record of involvement in cases of torture, illegal detention and extracting false confessions, Human Rights Watch said. “The leading role of Saeed Mortazavi in the cracksdown of Tehran should set off alarm bells,” it said.

Government officials, conservative politicians and hardline newspapers are pressing for the arrest of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the former prime minister who claims that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidential election victory was rigged.

One newspaper, Vatan Emrouz, which supports Mr Ahmadinejad, ran a front-page picture of the former prime minister beneath the headline: “Who is responsible for the week-long crime in Tehran?”. It quoted the alleged father of a victim saying: “The one responsible for my child’s blood is Mir Hossein Mousavi and I will follow up this issue until I get my right.”

All 25 employees of Mr Mousavi’s newspaper, Kalemeh Sabz, were arrested, with intelligence officers suggesting that it was plotting against national security.

Mr Mousavi’s freedom of manoeuvre appears to have been severely curtailed, with some reports suggesting that secret police and security agents are monitoring his every move. He was careful to distance himself from what he described as an “independent” demonstration yesterday, and some analysts believe that he will be arrested immediately if he calls for a strike.

Zahra Rahnavard, Mr Mousavi’s wife, said that it was “as if martial law has been imposed”. She said that her husband’s supporters had a constitutional right to protest and demanded the release of all detainees.

Another defeated candidate, Mohsen Rezai, a former Revolutionary Guards chief, fell into line by withdrawing his complaints about election irregularities. Mehdi Karoubi, Mr Ahmadinajead’s third challenger, remained defiant: “I do not accept the result and therefore consider as illegitimate the new Government,” he said.

Determined to portray the protestors as pawns of subversive foreign powers, the regime continued to fulminate against Britain, which it accuses of fomenting the unrest to destablise the Islamic Republic.

Asked about the possibility of Iran downgrading its relations with Britain, Manouchehr Mottaki, the Foreign Minister, replied: “We are studying it.” Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the Intelligence Minister, claimed that some of the detained “rioters” had British passports.

In Washington the State Department confirmed, to nobody’s surprise, that not one Iranian diplomat, anywhere in the world, had accepted ground-breaking invitations from their American counterparts to share hotdogs at July 4 parties.

Source: Times Online

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