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A Year Later: Suppression Continues in Iran

A week later, on July 17, former president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a senior cleric and regular leader of Tehran’s Friday Prayer, gave his only post-election sermon. Rafsanjani’s sermon drew hundreds of thousands of attendees. Emphasizing unity, he urged the authorities to refrain from arresting and imprisoning citizens and from censoring the media.

Although both Mousavi and Karroubi attended Rafsanjani’s sermon, Tehran University’s Prayer Hall, the setting of all Friday Prayers, was filled with supporters of the government. Outside, however, a multitude of demonstrators used the opportunity to continue their protests. Clashes erupted after the sermon, and the security forces used tear gas and beatings to disperse crowds as they gathered in several areas in Tehran. Once again, the authorities declared all assemblies except those sponsored by the government to be illegal, and protestors were arrested for allegedly staging illegal demonstrations and starting riots.

Outbursts of protests and violence continued through July. July 30 marked the last significant day of mourning for Neda Agha-Soltan and others who had died on June 20. Mousavi and Karroubi requested a permit to hold a memorial service at the Mossallah Mosque in Tehran. Their joint letter noted that no speeches would be made and that participants would be required to mourn in silence. The Interior Ministry denied their request.

Thus, the thousands of mourners who attended the memorial service were deemed guilty of illegal demonstrations and subject to attacks by security forces. These forces cordoned off Agha-Soltan’s grave and limited access to the cemetery. While Karroubi managed to attend the ceremony, Mousavi was prevented from exiting his vehicle when he arrived to pay his respects. Riot police used tear gas, beat demonstrators, broke windshields of passing cars and dispersed the crowds. Some people were injured after falling in freshly dug graves. Official sources put the overall number of those arrested at 50.

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 cancelled the religious ceremony of Ehya at the Imam Khomeini Shrine. So, too, was the anniversary of the remembrance of Ayatollah Taleghani’s death, and later the Eid-e Fetr prayer at the Mossallah Mosque and the anniversary of Ayatollah Ashrafi Isfahani’s martyrdom.

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 (al Quds in Arabic) that was mandated by the Islamic Republic’s founding leader, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Mousavi Khomeini.

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 regime. 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.

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. Security forces armed with tear gas and batons clashed with demonstrators in Tehran as well as in other cities including Shiraz and Rasht. In Tehran, hardliners attacked Mousavi’s vehicle and managed to shove and harass former president Mohammad Khatami before supporters surrounded him. 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.

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Reports, Right to Protest, Imprisonment