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

2.6.4       September 18: Quds Day

Fearing that demonstrators would co-opt national events and celebrations, the government cancelled several such events in the following weeks. For example, in early September, it announced that the religious ceremony of Ehya at the Imam Khomeini Shrine would be cancelled.[219] So too was the anniversary of the remembrance of Ayatollah Taleghani’s death,[220] and later the Eid-e Fetr prayer at the Mossalla Mosque and the anniversary of Ayatollah Ashrafi Isfahani’s martyrdom.[221]

There was a lull in large demonstrations for several weeks. However, on September 18, the government proceeded with public observance of International al-Quds Day. This annual event is a government-sponsored expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people and a protest against Israeli occupation of Jerusalem that was mandated by Ayatollah Khomeini.[222]

No permit was requested by any of the reformist candidates or parties. However, tens of thousands of opposition demonstrators used the government-sponsored demonstrations to express their continued displeasure with the government. Although they were reportedly a minority in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators rallied by the government to attend the traditional protest, chants of “Death to the Dictator” were heard.[223]

Before the demonstrations, the opposition was warned by both the Supreme Leader and the Sepah that any division or deviation from the official purpose of the demonstrations would be met with force.[224] Security forces armed with tear gas and batons clashed with demonstrators in Tehran as well as in other cities including Shiraz and Rasht.[225] In Tehran, hard-liners attacked Mousavi’s vehicle and managed to shove and harass Khatami before supporters surrounded him.[226] Yet, the next day, the police announced that only demonstrators who were attempting to cause damage to public property were arrested and that police did not engage the opposition protestors.[227]

2.6.5       November 4 (13th of Aban): Anniversary of U.S. Embassy Takeover

Smaller demonstrations continued through the end of September as students returned to the universities. Again, authorities responded by arresting student leaders of Tahkim-e Vahdat.[228] However, the opposition set November 4, (the 13th of Aban in the Persian Calendar) as the next major planned demonstration. This date has traditionally been used by the Islamic Republic to mark the 1979 student takeover of the U.S. Embassy.

On October 16, nearly three weeks before the demonstration, the head of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, warned opposition protesters not to attempt to hijack another event. Jannati, a longtime supporter of Ahmadinejad, issued his warning during his nationally televised Friday Prayer.[229] He also encouraged security forces to show no mercy when dealing with arrested protestors.[230]

His warnings were echoed by the police, the Basij and the Judiciary. General Radan stressed that it was the duty of the police to “prevent any disturbance of order in society.”[231] In its announcement setting the location for the anti-American rally, the police emphasized that any other demonstration was illegal.[232] Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the head of the Basij, also emphasized the crucial role of his forces in protecting the revolution and the Velayat-e Faqih. Tehran’s newly-appointed prosecutor general, Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, promised that “those who try to disrupt the anti-American rallies on Wednesday will be confronted.”[233]

On November 4, thousands of opposition protestors unsuccessfully attempted to assemble in Tehran and join the demonstrators bused in by the government to demonstrate in front of the former U.S. Embassy building.[234] One witness recounts: 

It has been said that on this day around 300,000 security forces were covering the capital. Their goal was clear—to prevent demonstrators from gathering and keep people away from the pro-government demonstrations in front of the occupied U.S. embassy. They used every means necessary to ensure that this happened. But the crowds were very large. Clashes ensued; the crowds began to move … Things quickly got out of hand and the security forces began using more violence … They showed little mercy when confronting demonstrators and beating them … [even] attacking an office building on Takht-e Tavoos Street and severely beating demonstrators who had sought refuge there.[235]

The security forces did not allow opposition demonstrations anywhere in Tehran. One witness describes:

Control over 13th of Aban Square was undoubtedly at the hands of the Sepah, who gave direct orders to the anti-riot police … They had even deployed local police units in the streets during this time. The main forces were anti-riot units who acted at the behest of the Sepah. The Basij and the Sepah ground forces were also involved, as were intelligence agents (though to a smaller degree) who were working on behalf of the various intelligence ministries. The Law Enforcement Forces [NAJA] also used their trained forces in these operations.[236]

However, hundreds of protestors gathered in streets and alleys, and chanted anti-government slogans. They were dispersed by security forces shooting tear gas and wielding batons. Some demonstrators ran into buildings to escape the attacks, but security forces often stormed after them.[237] The security forces arrested many people. One witness recounts: 

Under Karimkhan Bridge, the plainclothes and law enforcement forces attacked. We ran away. A hand pushed me from behind and threw me on the ground. Before I knew what was going on, they started beating me with a baton and kicking me. I think they beat me for a few minutes. They were mostly beating my back and shoulders. I raised my head and saw a few women wearing chadors trying to rescue me, but the plainclothes beat them and forcibly took me towards the Sepah forces. They punched me in the chest and dragged me into an alley, blindfolded and handcuffed me, and had me lay on my stomach there for about an hour. Then they put me on a motorcycle and took me to a city bus where other arrestees were.[238]

One witness, a retired academic and grandmother, had come to see the demonstrations for herself, but she decided to head home when security forces rode motorcycles onto the sidewalks kicking and beating people with batons, throwing tear gas and shooting into the air.

We were still standing on the sidewalk when they came on the sidewalk with their motorcycles. They were shouting “Go back to your houses.” A policeman shoved me and said “Go home.” I turned around and said “I am going!!” when he sprayed something in my face. I felt like my eyes were going blind and sat down. I don’t know what it was, but I think it was pepper spray. We made it to one of the side streets … A lady came out and told me I could go inside and wash my face. Someone said that I shouldn’t let water touch my eyes because it will get worse, and instead I should have someone blow smoke in my face. [My friend] lit a cigarette and blew it in my eyes. I felt better, so we decided to go back and get a cab home.[239]

A participant in the demonstrations noted the particular brutality of the Basij:

While NAJA’s regular forces did not resort to much violence, the anti-riot police (which are a part of the NAJA but operate under the command of Tehran’s Sepah units) used severe force to prevent people from mobilizing … Alongside these forces were plainclothes agents, who [were usually prone] to even more violence, especially against women. These plainclothes agents were mostly employed by the Basij, and they act without any regard for [the rule of law]. Sometimes ten of them would brutally attack one person. [They] used batons, sticks, clubs and tear gas for these operations and received monetary compensation through a network of mosques. [240]

A third witness remembers that the security forces were coordinated:

The plainclothes were shouting slogans and insults in front of the Art Gallery and the law enforcement were beating people with batons and shockers. However, when the plainclothes joined them, they were beating more violently with foul insults. They beat women more and disbursed them with kicks. This made the youth angrier and caused them to peel the stones off the ground and throw at them. The violence was worse on this day than other days.

They cussed at people in their faces. Most of the plainclothes had guns. The jade-clothed NAJA were less violent than the para-military. There were female police too. They beat people with batons and clubs. They threw a lot of tear gas. A lot. A few times people also threw the firecrackers they use at Chaharshanbeh Soori at the plainclothes. That scared them a lot because it sounds like gunshots. But they had no mercy on people. They beat up a dairy worker who was taking pictures with his cell phone and cuffed him with plastic cuffs and loaded him up in a van. They dragged girls and boys on the ground and kicked the boys and loaded them on a van. I didn’t see the female police hitting anyone and only cussed and disbursed people. Even schoolchildren (Basij students) hit people with their flagpoles, kids maybe 13 or 14 years old![241]

Reportedly, Karroubi was attacked by government forces after he exited his car because of a traffic tie-up. His entourage was stormed by plainclothes and NAJA officers, and one of his bodyguards was hit by a tear gas canister that split his head open and sent him to the hospital. Forces attacked and damaged Karroubi’s car as he drove to safety.[242] Mousavi was not even allowed to leave his offices at the Cultural Center. It was surrounded by plainclothes forces on motorcycles whom he reportedly confronted.[243]  

Journalists were also targeted. Farhad Pouladi, a correspondent for Agence France-Presse, and Nafiseh Zareh Kohan, a reporter for reformist newspapers, were arrested during the protests.[244] The Fars News Agency reported the arrest of one Japanese correspondent and two Canadian reporters who were accused of reporting on the demonstrations without licenses.[245]

Security forces arrested dozens of demonstrators and activists. The next day, families of these individuals gathered outside of Vozara detention center for news about the detained. They too were beaten and dispersed.[246] The following Saturday, Azizollah Rajabzadeh, the head of Tehran’s police, announced that 109 individuals had been arrested on November 4.[247]

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