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A Year Later: Suppression Continues in Iran

Thousands of protestors refused to remain home, and attended rallies in Tehran and around the country on June 20. In Tehran, demonstrators tried to congregate in Enqelab Square and Azadi Square, but thousands of police, Basij, militia and plainclothed officers blocked access to the squares and to the streets leading to the squares.

About 3,000 protestors managed to gather inside Enqelab Square where they chanted “Death to the Dictator” and “Death to dictatorship.” Outside, the Basij purposefully limited the flow of people and were seen creating chaos.

Secret police and plainclothes agents slashed people in the crowd with knives and razors. Over 20 people were fatally shot in Tehran, including bystanders who were shot by security forces opening fire on the demonstrators. Video footage shows militia members firing from rooftops and windows into crowds of protestors chanting “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) and “Do not fear. Do not fear. We are all together here.”

Twenty-year-old Ashkan Sohrabi was shot three times in the chest. Kaveh Alipour was killed while reportedly walking home from acting class on Saturday. Standing at an intersection in downtown Tehran, the 19-year-old was shot in the head. He was reportedly alone. Masoud Hashemzadeh was shot in the chest; the bullet punctured his heart and lung before exiting out of his back. He suffered extensive internal bleeding and general blood loss.

Some of the most disturbing and dramatic video footage captured the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot in the chest on a side-street in Tehran. Agha-Soltan became an international symbol of the brutality of the Iranian regime. Video of her death was seen by millions on the Internet. As a result of the attention her murder received, her family suffered at the hands of the authorities, who attempted to deny the veracity of the facts surrounding Agha-Soltan’s death.

By the end of Saturday, June 20, the streets leading to Enqelab Square in Tehran were covered in blood and rocks thrown by protestors. State media initially glossed over the level of violence, reporting that police used batons and water canons to disperse protestors. Later, it acknowledged that a number of people had been killed, but blamed “terrorist elements who had infiltrated the rallies.”

Many protestors who witnessed the brutality on June 20 believed that the demonstrations were over and would not be revived. Indeed, for the next week, the streets remained mostly calm. There was a suffocating security presence. Throughout the rest of the summer and into the winter, demonstrations became more sporadic. They occurred mostly on religious days of mourning for the victims of the violence or on official national days of significance.

July 9 was the 10th anniversary of the 1999 attack on Tehran University’s dormitory by the Basij. Although warned by Ahmadi-Moqaddam, the chief of police, that any gathering would be strongly confronted, a few hundred people assembled and protested. Protestors once again resisted the authorities’ dispersal efforts by chanting and throwing rocks. Access to important sites was blocked, and protestors clashed with riot police who worked to prevent them from assembling and dispersed those who managed to congregate.

Authorities severely beat demonstrators with batons and used electric shock prods before arresting them. A subsequent military investigation revealed that more than 45 of these and other demonstrators were taken to the Kahrizak detention facility the next day. The beatings suffered on the streets and the conditions at Kahrizak led to the deaths of at least three of the demonstrators arrested on July 9. Yet on July 10, in one of his first statements regarding the victims of the July 9 demonstrations, Ahmadi-Moqaddam claimed that NAJA (the national police force) no longer held anyone in custody in relation to the street protests.

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Reports, Right to Protest, Imprisonment