Trouble at Iran's birthday party

Today marks the anniversary of the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran 31 years ago, traditionally a day of mass rallies in Tehran and other Iranian cities. Most Iran-watchers have predicted that it will be a flash-point between ‘Green Movement’ protesters against the disputed election, and security forces. And while it’s hard to get an accurate picture of what’s happening, it looks like they were right.

The Times reports that “The opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammed Khatami – a former president – were attacked. Zahra Eshraghi, the granddaughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 revolution, was briefly arrested.”
Scouring Twitter using the #iranelections hashtag, I’ve seen a lot of traffic, numerous mentions of people being beaten by the Basiji militia, and a few references to 64-year-old Zahra Rahnavard, wife of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, being beaten in the street. None of them substantiated, of course – one of the problems of trying to follow developments on Twitter.

A much bigger obstacle to getting accurate news from Tehran, however, is the authorities’ clampdown on free speech. Google’s Gmail service has reportedly been shut down and major restrictions on the Internet – a complete shutdown, according to some – have been reported. Large numbers of journalists have been locked up: Reporters Without Borders says that the number of ‘journalists and netizens’ arrested is now over 65.

Then there are the reports of restrictions on protest and association. The BBC says: “The opposition is trying to bring more people into central Tehran but is being confronted by a large number of the government's Basij militia, the reports say. Security forces are armed with tear gas, live rounds – which they are firing into the air – and paint balls to mark protesters. Witnesses say they have been loading opposition supporters onto buses.”

Lots of use (by me and the media) of the word ‘reported’, you’ll notice. That’s because Amnesty’s not allowed into Iran, the BBC’s correspondent has been kicked out, and, as the Al-Jazeera website points out regarding today’s protests, “It was impossible to independently verify the reports as foreign media have been banned from covering street marches.” It’s worth checking Al-Jazeera’s reporting, though – it’s a bit less florid than some of the UK and US-based sites on this issue.

Also worth reading is a detailed briefing that we issued in the lead-up to today’s protests, warning of human rights abuses from security forces.

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