Sunday, February 14, 2010

22 Bahman Protest Yields New Lessons for Opposition

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The Los Angeles Times /

This picture by Italian photographer Pietro Masturzo was named World Press Photo's 2009 Photo of the Year on Friday in Amsterdam. It shows women in Tehran, Iran, shouting from a rooftop in protest on June 24, 2009. Agence France-Presse photographer Olivier Laban-Mattei's pictures from Tehran were also recognized, as was a still from a YouTube video showing the death of Neda-Agha Soltan. Many in Iran's opposition are licking their wounds this weekend after failing to derail the official agenda during the country's 31st anniversary celebrations in Iran. But some, including one female Iranian journalist who gave her detailed account of the protests to the Times, are taking the time to reflect on the future of the green movement born out of Iran's disputed June presidential elections. "So many of the greens were sad and disappointed," she said on condition of anonymity for her own protection. "But I myself believe that we gained something." Though the experience was a tough blow for the opposition, a close review also yielded lessons for both the protesters and government, the journalist said. Hundreds were arrested around the country in the weeks before the rally. "There were lots of threatening activities from the government these recent days to just prevent people from attending," the journalist said. "They scared people a lot by executing them, arresting them."

The government managed to flood Tehran's Azadi square with huge numbers of supporters, using buses to bring them in from the both the capital and outlying areas. Witnesses could spot them arriving on buses with the names of villages and towns outside the capital, such as Shahriar or Hosseinabad. "For some of the government supporters this was the first time they saw any greens!" the journalist said. "And they were very surprised that someone beside them wouldn't repeat the slogans on the loudspeakers." Though they were unable to fill the entire square, as this satellite photo suggests, cameras were positioned (below) to show limitless crowds. The few foreign journalists who were in attendance were brought in on buses to the square, and they only had permission to quote the speech of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Basiji militiamen and police as well as plainclothes security officials filled the streets between Enghelab Square to Azadi Square. They were positioned at the intersections of all the side streets along the march route who would arrest anyone holding green ribbons or banners. "Some of the Basijis would strike even government supporters because they couldn't tell who was who," the journalist said. Near Enghelab Square, they grabbed 20 to 30 people and dragged them to the side streets nearby, where police vans were waiting. "If the Basijis had suspicions about you they would approach you and they would want you to take a 'souvenir' picture with them and in this way they had a picture of you," said the journalist. "If you argued they would start getting aggressive. They would search you and if they found any green paraphernalia they would arrest you." (Read more...)