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Violent Aftermath: The 2009 Election and Suppression of Dissent in Iran

2.4       Tuesday, June 16 through Friday, June 19: Mourning the Dead and Friday Prayers

On Tuesday, June 16, the Ministry of Culture warned foreign news outlets not to participate in or cover rallies and demonstrations. Initially, the official reason was the safety of foreign journalists since the authorities claimed to have “received specific threats against reporters.”[138] Only a day later, the ban was extended to any news conference by Mousavi, and the Foreign Ministry declared:

In an inappropriate, rushed and impudent act, certain countries have supported the illegal gatherings and the disturbances of a number of opportunists and … have turned themselves into the mouthpiece for these hooligans, through which they aim at damaging the radiant face of the Islamic Republic.[139]

Foreign journalists were told that they would not be granted extensions on their visas and would have to leave Iran.[140]

The Guardian Council announced that the vote would be partially recounted. Mousavi urged restraint in light of threats by the country’s Police Chief, General Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, who promised to “quell any unrest.”[141]

Yet, the demonstrations continued throughout the week. Despite Police Chief Ahmadi-Moqaddam’s threats, witnesses report that uniformed police officers were less likely than Basij to use violence when dealing with demonstrators.

The interesting thing was that the National Police Force was with the people. They were not helping them, but they would not hurt them either. The problem was the plain-clothed individuals. … [And] the buses [that] were filled with military people, commandos and militia and all these Basij people. … People were [most] scared of those people who [wore black from] head-to-toe. They would call them fada’iyan-i rahbar [Leader’s devotees]. They’re just there to kill people. And even if they see you on your balcony saying ‘Allah’u akbar,’ they would get so mad, they would come to your house and break down [the door] and come up.[142]

Mousavi’s spokesperson asked that people refrain from attending a scheduled rally in Tehran on Tuesday because a pro-Ahmadinejad rally was to be held at the same site in front of the state television building.[143] Although protestors came out anyway, the two opposing crowds remained largely peaceful. Again, the majority of the opposition protestors marched in silence to their destinations in order to avoid being painted as thugs or hooligans.[144] As before, sporadic violence broke out later in the day, and demonstrators were injured and lost their lives.[145]

On Wednesday, June 17, thousands of demonstrators packed the streets of Tehran for a fifth straight day.[146] Mousavi and former president Khatami published a joint letter asking Iran’s courts to use their powers to deal with the street violence and release protesters who had been arrested:

The use of violence against ordinary people, raiding people’s residences just because they chant the sacred phrase of Allah’u akbar (Allah is great), beating up women and men, destroying buildings is not in line with the standards of the Islamic Republic. [147]

Though not a direct response to the letter, a warning by the chief prosecutor of Isfahan, Mohammad-Reza Habibi, did not bode well for the reformists’ call on the Judiciary to temper the conservatives’ zeal:

We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution.[148]

On Wednesday, Mousavi sent another letter to the SNSC criticizing the use of plainclothes agents and complaining of their use of batons, metal rods and firearms to “attack the lines of demonstrators before the security forces.”[149] He then released a statement asking the public to join him in a day of mourning for those who had been injured or killed in the protests:

In the course of the past days and as a consequence of illegal and violent encounters with (people protesting) against the outcome of the presidential election, a number of our countrymen were wounded or martyred. … I ask the people to express their solidarity with the families ... by coming together in mosques or taking part in peaceful demonstrations. [150]

In response, the next day, demonstrators gathered in Imam Khomeini Square in Tehran in the late afternoon. Their numbers reached into the hundreds of thousands, and covered the whole square and the surrounding streets.[151] Dressed in green or black, bearing black candles or black ribbons, demonstrators heeded the call of mourning for the dead, but anticipated further clashes with the authorities.[152] 

Anticipating both the impact of the upcoming Friday Prayer and an extraordinary session called by the Guardian Council on Saturday to consider allegations of vote-rigging, the Association of Combatant Clerics asked for a permit to hold a pro-Mousavi rally on Saturday.[153] Karroubi’s party, Etemad Melli, made a similar request that day even though the editor of its news outlet, Mohammad Qoochani, had been arrested by Intelligence Ministry agents.[154]    

On Friday, Tehran’s Governor General, Morteza Tamaddon, made it clear that no permission for opposition rallies would be granted,[155] and the SNSC responded to Mousavi’s letter with threats:

It is your duty not to incite and invite the public to illegal gatherings; otherwise, you will be responsible for its consequences. … It is your responsibility to prevent the public from attending such rallies instead of making accusations against the law enforcement. … We believe this is an organized network which is most probably affiliated to foreign-related groups and deliberately disturbs the peace and security of the public. Of course, we have already ordered the law enforcement forces to deal with the issue.[156]

In a sign of disrespect, neither Mousavi nor Karroubi attended the Friday Prayer sermon by the Supreme Leader, and neither sent representatives to the Guardian Council’s session on Saturday.[157] Friday Prayer serves as a show of force against enemies and to unify Muslims. The Friday Prayer sermon (khutbih) is considered to be part of the prayer

and is delivered by the Friday Prayer Imam who must be a brave, intelligent, able and eloquent man. In Iran, attendance at the Friday Prayer presumes unity with the contents of the prayer, including the sermon.[158]

Khamenei’s Friday Prayer sermon, delivered to tens of thousands of conservative supporters, was a hard-line message that was well-received by the crowd but stunned much of the Iranian population.[159] He warned:

If the political elite want to … break the law, they will be held responsible for the bloodshed and any form of unrest. … [the people are allowed to demonstrate], but it is different for terrorists who have infiltrated and hide behind these people. … If [the opposition] creates covers for them, who will be held responsible? I want both sides to put an end to this. … The responsibility of the consequences will be shouldered by those who are not putting an end to it. Thinking that you can put pressure on officials by turning out into the streets is wrong.[160]

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