Monday, January 18, 2010

I.R. Iran Warns Protesters Era of ‘Mercy’ Is Over

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The New York Times / Robert F. Worth

Iran’s national police chief issued a stark warning to the country’s opposition on Friday, saying the era of “mercy” was over and that the authorities would begin cracking down more harshly not only on street protests but on anyone who used cell phone and email messages to publicize them. The opposition has relied heavily on email, cell phones and the Internet to organize protests ever since the disputed June 12 presidential election, which set off the worst domestic unrest in decades. The government has shut down opposition newspapers and blocked Web sites, and has grown increasingly frustrated at the protesters’ continuing ability to elude government restraints. The police chief, Ismail Ahmadhi-Moghaddam, said at a news conference on Friday that the authorities would punish those who use email and cell phones to organize protests even more harshly than the protesters themselves. “After all the evidence we saw on Ashura, our tolerance has come to an end, and both the police force and the Judiciary will be confronting them with full force,” Mr. Ahmadi-Moghaddam said at a news conference, according to Iran’s semi-official ILNA news service. Iranian security chiefs have issued similar warnings on several occasions since the disputed presidential election last June, which touched off anti-government protests that have yet to be quelled by the authorities.

Protests on Dec. 27, the Ashura religious holiday, turned violent, and at least eight people were killed in clashes across Iran in the bloodiest outbreaks since the height of the post-election demonstrations last summer. Hundreds of protesters were arrested. Sixteen of the protesters arrested on that day will be tried by Iran’s revolutionary court, the semi-official Fars news agency reported. One of the defendants was accused of “moharebeh” — a term meaning warring against God — which carries the death penalty under Iranian law. The others were accused of gathering with the intention of disrupting national security and propagandizing against the government, according to Fars. More opposition protests are expected next month, when the annual celebration of the founding of the Islamic republic will provide another occasion for mass gatherings. As in recent months, the government appears to be trying to intimidate the opposition to forestall street demonstrations. Earlier this week, the authorities took the unusual step of arresting a senior ayatollah, Mohammad Taghi. The killing of Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, a physics lecturer at Tehran University, earlier this week continued to generate acrimony Friday, with more conservatives angrily blaming Israel and the United States. Opposition leader Mir-Hussein Moussavi issued a statement decrying the killing — carried out with a bomb strapped to a motorcycle — as “part of an extensive plan” orchestrated by “the enemies of the nation,” opposition Web sites reported. He did not say who he thought was responsible.