Iran Protests Met with Beatings, Tear Gas as Green Movement Adopts New Methods

Article excerpt

In Iran, riot police clashed with thousands of protesters Monday in the latest round of demonstrations, which took place despite a concerted six-month effort by Iran's security services to stamp out the opposition Green Movement.

Witnesses said that at Tehran University, just one of several flashpoints in Tehran and other cities marred by violence, police used tear gas and batons, and plainclothes agents wielded electric stun-guns against students and other demonstrators throwing stones. Protesters chanted slogans against the security forces and "Death to the dictator"; passersby were beaten with batons in alleys off the main streets.

Iran specialists say the persistence of the protests in the face of powerful counter-measures from the regime indicates that politics in Iran has irreversibly changed.

"This is not a revolution, this is the commencement of a civil rights movement," says Hamid Dabashi, a prolific historian of Iran at Columbia University in New York.

Hard-line Iranian officials had warned they would "mercilessly" counter any attempt to hijack National Student Day - traditionally a regime-sanctioned day of anti-American protest, which commemorates the death of three students during anti-US demonstrations in 1953.

Basiji militiamen masquerading as students flooded into Tehran University and "took control of the main gate from inside," reported one source in Tehran. He said that security forces want to hit them "hard" and intimidate other potential activists prior to more significant protest dates later this month.

Scores of student leaders were arrested or expelled in the days leading up to the event, Internet service was slowed to a crawl or cut off, and foreign media were told to stay in their offices, their press cards for street reporting revoked for three days. Cellphone coverage and even pay phone lines near universities were severed.

Facebook used against protestors?

Despite that clampdown, Facebook, Twitter, and Iranian networking sites, which are normally closed down or restricted, were restored - perhaps to encourage sharing of information about the protests.

"They want to show that they can trace people, hunt them down. This would bring more fear," says the source in Tehran. "If you catch people on the spot, so what. But if you trace them, go to their doors tomorrow, that will scare [people]. Big Brother is watching you all the time."

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in protest for weeks after June 12, crying fraud over an election that gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term. Scores died, thousands were arrested, and Iran's top religious official Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei said not accepting the results was the "biggest crime."

Harsh tactics and allegations of rape and torture in prison have now limited large public protests to days when the Islamic Republic celebrates national or religious holidays with its own marches.

Key leaders of the opposition Green Movement, such as former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who himself declared victory in the June vote, have hardly been seen in public in recent months.

"A great nation would not stay silent when some confiscate its vote," Mr. Mousavi said in a statement posted online on the eve of the Monday protest.

"Dear brothers of ours!" Mousavi told security forces, according to a translation on enduringamerica.com. "If you are not getting anywhere with your enormous efforts ... perhaps you have mistaken the battlefield. You fight people on the streets, but you are constantly losing your dignity in people's minds. …