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

2.3       Monday, June 15: Millions Take to the Streets

On Sunday and the days that followed, Mousavi, Karroubi and others requested permits for demonstrations that were denied by the Interior Ministry.[105] Although the opposition candidates cancelled demonstrations, demonstrators often went forward without permits.[106] 

Mousavi and Karroubi applied for a permit for a rally at Azadi Square on Monday, June 15, and asked people to stay calm. Their application was denied and the rally was officially canceled, but as the day progressed, significant numbers of demonstrators filled the streets of Tehran and other larger Iranian cities. In Tehran, protestors marched silently from Enqelab Square (Revolution Square) to Azadi Square (Freedom Square) where an estimated hundreds of thousands—maybe millions—of protestors[107] demanded nullification of the election and a recount.[108] One witness recounted:

All the people were protesting in silence and asking for their demands. They had one hand on their nose and another up, showing the peace sign. I walked up to Behboodi St. There were so many people there that I couldn’t go any further … several times I wanted to leave but decided not to and tried to go further. A few times I saw a small crowd chanting. But the [main] crowed was so well organized on its own that everybody would just say “Shush!” And the crowd would go quiet. I get emotional just talking about it right now.[109]

Mousavi and Karroubi joined the demonstrators at Azadi Square.[110] Mousavi, in his first public appearance since the election, gave a speech demanding respect for the people’s votes.[111]

During most of the day, the response of the security forces to the large number of street protestors appeared to have been generally mild.[112] In spite of an official ban on demonstrations,[113] security forces were ordered to observe the events and not attack demonstrators. Mostly seen on the sidelines, they sat on stoops next to their riot gear, as the sea of protestors flowed past. The protests were given limited coverage by the national media in Iran.[114]

Speculation varied among protestors and commentators about the regime’s reasons for its non-confrontational policy. Some believed that by allowing unhampered protests, speeches, and some news coverage of the events, the regime sought to avoid the street clashes that were widespread on Saturday and Sunday.[115] Others noted the number of protestors and surmised that any attack by the security forces would have been too risky during the day.[116]

Protests were met with much greater resistance in other cities. In Ahvaz, a crowd of two thousand demonstrators was attacked by baton-wielding police officers.[117] In Shiraz, security forces fired into the air and Fars Province Police General Ali Moayeri authorized his officers to shoot at protestors and warned: “From now on, we will respond harshly.”[118]

Violence also broke out in Tehran as the sun began to set and the crowds thinned.[119] The Sepah and the Basij clashed with young demonstrators who would not disperse. One demonstrator remembered:

During the struggles, the youth threw stones at them and their motorcycles. The security forces’ fear of the young men was surprising to me. People shouted slogans from rooftops in support of the youth and the guards threw tear gas to the roofs. They tried to get inside one of the houses that gave refuge to the youth. … [The] presence of the plainclothes and the Basij in camouflage and ordinary clothes was very evident. They were the most violent and were mostly young; there were even kids between 14 and 16.[120]

Witnesses report that the Basij forces tried to provoke demonstrators, sometimes successfully, into taking violent action. Another witness said:  

[After the demonstration, on our way home,] the Basij would come and insult people and start fights. They would come and instigate the guys. In Azadi Street close to Enghelab [Street], a group of them had come amongst the people and insulted the wife of a man who was there and started a fight. They were Basij, plainclothes, with batons at their belt.[121]

In one of the most publicized clashes, a security officer opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators outside the Basij compound near Azadi Square.[122] Iran state news agency, IRIB, reported that thugs had attacked a military post as people were leaving the illegal rally:

Towards the end of yesterday’s (Monday) illegal demonstrations from which many participants were peacefully returning, several thugs [or hooligans] attacked public/government buildings and private residences in a systematic and coordinated effort which created chaos and caused great damage to public property on Azadi Street. … The rioters, some of whom were armed, attacked a military depot with the intention of occupying the facility and disarming its guards. As a result of ensuing gunfire, seven compatriots were unfortunately killed and several others injured.[123]

Video footage shows young men throwing rocks and a fire set by protestors.[124] However, the chaos and fear experienced by the demonstrators is palpable in the several available videos of the incident. There is no evidence of systematic or coordinated action on the part of the demonstrators, and, although some demonstrators hold rocks, none are armed.[125] Whether this incident sparked the rest of the violence that night, or was simply one of the earliest and best documented, remains unclear. It is clear, however, that shooting into crowds was considered acceptable by the security forces from Monday night forward.

Video footage shows the Basij shooting into the crowds on Monday night.[126] Naser Amirnejad was one of the protestors shot at the Basij.[127] Close by, Mehdi Karami and Massoud Khosravi were also shot to death.[128] Davoud Sadri was shot outside the Meqdad Basij station near Azadi Square. The 25-year-old electrician was transferred to Rasoul Akram hospital, but died that day from injuries to his heart and spleen. His death was not confirmed for weeks during which time his family was given conflicting information by authorities about how he died, who was responsible, and where his body was located.[129]

The demonstrators were shocked and in disbelief as the security forces began shooting into the crowd. One witness recounted:

The circle was filled with people … [who] were drinking water or singing or dancing or shouting … And all of a sudden I heard someone shooting, … and we all got nervous … And we saw that some people are running against that noise and coming to push us back, and they would say “no, no don’t come there, go there, they’re killing people, they’re killing people.” [But] people were like, “no, no they would never kill people.”[130]

Kianoosh Asa, a masters student in Petroleum Chemistry at Iran University of Science and Technology is believed to have been shot on Monday. He disappeared that day and his whereabouts remained unknown until June 24 when his family found his body at the medical examiner’s morgue. His brother Kamran Asa pieced together some facts about Kianoosh’s death:

On 25th of Khordad [June 15] around Azadi Square, Kianoosh was shot and wounded in his side. According to eye witness accounts, he was only shot once and could easily move his hands, feet and neck and even turned his neck around. He was taken [by ambulance] … to a hospital. … We recognized his body on the 3rd of Tir [June 24]. [It] was taken to the Medical Examiner’s morgue four days after he was wounded, on the 29th of Khordad [June 19]. However, when we recognized his body at the [morgue], in addition to the bullet hole in his waist, he had a bullet hole in his neck. [I am] 90% positive that the cause of death was the bullet in his neck and not the one in his waist.[131]

Months later, on National Student Day (December 7), Kamran Asa and his companions were arrested as he tried to place a wreath and his brother’s picture on the university grounds where he had studied.[132]

At least eight people were killed in the demonstrations in Tehran on Monday.[133] Some were shot in streets close to Azadi Square. Others died from head injuries suffered from beatings by baton-wielding security forces.[134]

Sometimes they would even throw their batons towards women and girls. They would chase the protestors until they ran out of breath. Then, they would brutally beat them—whoever they may be: men and woman, old and young. This was to frighten everyone else so they wouldn’t come to the streets anymore.[135] 

Confirmed deaths were also reported in Isfahan, Mashhad and Kermanshah.[136] Near Shiraz Gate in Isfahan, Hossein Akhtarzand suffered a terrible death at the hands of plainclothes security agents who chased him and other protestors into a building complex filled with doctors’ offices. Akhtarzand climbed to the third floor where he was beaten. Eyewitnesses report that he was thrown from the third floor rooftop. Reportedly, when representatives of the Intelligence Ministry delivered his body to his family, they claimed that he had slipped and fallen during the arrest.[137] Gruesome pictures of his shattered teeth and bruised body indicate that regardless of whether Akhtarzand slipped and fell down stairs or was thrown off the building, security forces bear the responsibility for his death.

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