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A Year Later: Suppression Continues in Iran

University students affiliated with the Basij confronted and arrested other students on campuses. They reportedly threw two opposition members from a balcony in Hamedan. In Tehran, they arrested student activist Majid Tavakoli after he spoke at Tehran Polytechnic. The police reported the arrest of over 200 protestors, including 39 women, who were detained for resisting security forces and chanting slogans.

State television showed images of unknown individuals tearing up a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini. This prompted Mousavi and Karroubi, both of whom claim to represent the real ideals of the revolution and of Khomeini, to ask for permits to hold rallies for the first time in months. These rallies were meant to protest the actions of those who tore the picture of the founder of the Islamic Republic. The requests were denied.

On December 20, Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri died in his sleep at his home in the holy city of Qom. Esteemed in Shi’a clerical circles, Montazeri was one of the founders of the Islamic Republic but later became its most vocal clerical critic. He was considered the spiritual guide of the opposition movement in Iran. His death and funeral resulted in massive processions in Qom, and demonstrations in Tehran, Isfahan and Najafabad, his city of birth.

Montazeri was laid to rest the day after his death, and thousands of people traveled to Qom for the funeral procession. Some were stopped en route and arrested. Photos show at least tens of thousands of mourners flooding Qom, the conservative city where most Shi’a clergy are educated. Basij laid siege to Montazeri’s house, and committed other acts considered insulting by the mourners. The provocations resulted in opposition chants and clashes with the Basij, which were reportedly mediated by the police in Qom.

On December 23, the former Friday Prayer imam of Isfahan, Ayatollah Seyyed Jalaleddin Taheri, organized a ceremony at the Seyyed Mosque marking the third day of mourning for Montazeri. The ceremony began at 9 a.m., but after a few minutes during which attendants read the Quran, plainclothes forces closed the doors of the mosque. They deployed tear gas and pepper spray, and aggressively beat the assembled congregants. The lecturing cleric, several journalists and 50 others were beaten and arrested. Taheri was prevented from attending the ceremony. His supporters held at bay several plainclothes men who surrounded his house but his son, Mohammad Taheri, was arrested five days later.

Montazeri’s seventh day of mourning, another traditionally important day in the 40-day mourning period, fell on December 27, which was also the date on which Ashura, perhaps the most important religious day for Iranian Shi’as, was observed. The 10th day in the Islamic month of Moharram, Ashura marks the death of Imam Hossein, who was killed in his struggle against the tyrannical Caliph Yazid. Each year, Iranians commemorate the death of Hossein with street processions, self-flagellation and passion plays known as “Ta’ziyih” in which Imam Hossein, dressed in green, is martyred.

The convergence of these symbolic events and the continued suppression of dissent resulted in what became the most significant and violent demonstrations since June. Although combatants traditionally set aside hostilities during the Islamic month of Moharram and especially so on Ashura, the regime continued to violently confront demonstrators in the streets and used lethal force to deal with the massive crowds.

On Tasu’a, the day before Ashura, about 50 members of the Basij and/or other vigilantes group entered Jamaran Mosque in Tehran and interrupted a sermon by Khatami about Ashura. The violence continued on Ashura as hundreds of thousands flooded the streets in cities throughout Iran. Protests and clashes occurred in Mashhad, Tabriz, Arak, Babol, Najafabad, Isfahan, Shiraz, Ardebil and Orumieh.

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Reports, Right to Protest, Imprisonment