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Thursday
Feb172011

The Latest from Iran (17 February): Cutting Off the Opposition

2145 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Abolfazl Tabarzadi, a close relative of the Iran Democratic Front leader Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, has been freed on bail.

Tabarzadi was detained last December.

2135 GMT: 1 Esfand. Already the posters for Sunday's opposition march, agreed between a coalition of groups this afternoon, are appearing. This one links the rally to Mohammad Mokhtari and Sanee Zhaleh, the two men who died in the 25 Bahman marches on Monday:

2120 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Yesterday I noted the statement of the Assembly of Experts, chaired by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, denouncing the US/Israel-backed "counter-revolution" of Monday's opposition marches.

This morning (0730 GMT) I wrote that regime supporters in Qom had chanted for the death of Rafsanjani.

So how could those two events fit together?

An EA reader gives us an explanation by noting a statement on Rafsanjani's website that I had missed:

[This] is a sharply stated rebuke of Ahmadinejad, providing point-by-point proof that Rafsanjani's letter to the the Supreme Leader just before the [2009] election was prescient. The article points out the illegal actions the administration has taken since the inception of its second term and uses that proof as evidence of the fact that Ahmadinejad does not respect the people's vote. It further states, several times over, that one of the only ways to change the constitution is via referendum. It also does this as a means of criticizing Ahmadinejad's lack of respect for the will of the people, but the repeated reminder of the constitution's capacity for change via referendum cannot be lost on readers. The article was posted on 25th of Bahman and is what has sparked the backlash against Hashemi.

And there appears to be more evidence of the tension in this claimed footage of a crowd chanting hostile slogans against Rafsanjani and the grandsons of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, Hassan and Yasir Khomeini :

1850 GMT: Sanctions Watch. The US Treasury has imposed sanctions on Bank Refah for facilitating the purchase of millions of dollars of missiles and tanks by Iran's Ministry of Defense.

1845 GMT: Big thanks to James Miller for running the Live Blog while I have been away. In fact, he did too well --- I'm going to have to raise my game.

1721 GMT: The two Aftab News managers, arrested yesterday for Monday's "false permit" mistake, have been released. As we reported yesterday:

Aftab briefly reported that a permit had been granted for the opposition rally. The article was quickly pulled and the site taken off-line.

Aftab also reported that Turkish President Abdullah Gul, visiting Iran, had asked to join the march.

1706 GMT: Correction --- I mistakenly called Friday 30 Bahman. 30 Bahman is Saturday - the perils of blogging for days with little sleep.

Karroubi demands a trial: In a message posted on Facebook, Mehdi Karroubi is daring the regime to give him a public trial. The Facebook page promises a full English transcript soon, but a summary in English is available here. Karroubi apologized to his Iranina neighbors for the actions of the government. He also addressed conservatives who have called for his death, saying that he believs they have been pressured by the regime to make these statements. Karroubi then called for a public trial.

1619 GMT: According to Peyke Iran, today families of those arrested on 25 Bahman protested in front on Evin prison before they were told that they should return home because their loved ones would be released on Tuesday. Some of the families were attacked by plain-clothed police. Many of them dispersed, but families familiar with the process remained to protest. At the time of the report, those who remained were surrounded by approximately 50 men. 

1603 GMT: According to BBC Persian, a senior adviser to Mousavi, Ardeshir Amir Arjomand, has confirmed the plans to protest on Sunday (1 Esfand). Several sources have also informed us that planned protest routes for Friday Saturday have been pushed back to Sunday. It appears, with Mousavi's announcement of protests on Sunday, other opposition groups are falling in line.

There is a collective sigh of  relief for some who have been following our updates all morning. It is important to note that we have yet to receive any direct word from Mousavi himself. I've written a snap analysis for Dissected News

1444 GMT: After a break, we are back.

We've received several lists of proposed protests sites for 30 Bahman (Friday Saturday). Several opposition groups seem to be ramping up their plans for the day after what the regime is titling the "Day of Hate," a time to voice their hatred of the opposition movement (Friday).

We've suspected Friday to be a busy day, but Sunday is shaping up to be busy as well. Despite attempts tp bully Mousavi into submission, Kaleme, a website closely tied to Mousavi, has announced that The Unity Consolidation Bureau, a group linked to student activists, is calling for protests on Sunday (1 Esfand) to commemorate the death of the two protesters killed this week. 

1218 GMT: According to Daneshjoo News, the family home of Saneh Jaleh, who was killed on Tuesday and whose brother was detained, is now surrounded by security forces. 

1200 GMT: According to an opposition website, the Head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Ardeshir Larijani released a statement that it is "not in the best interest of the country to arrest Mousavi and Karroubi." Both Mousavi and Karroubi are currently under house arrest, and they have been largely cut off from outside communicatio aside from yesterday's statement, allegedly given by one of Mousavi's aids. This could be a sign that the regime believes they can isolate, or even co-opt, the reformist leaders. Perhaps they are being given the "last chance" that MP Tavakoli said he was giving Khatami.

1119 GMT: Where have I read thIS before? Today, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, spoke at a conference for Intellectual Asset Management and Business. He said that the survival of Iran is dependent on the adherence and loyalty to Imam Khomeini and trust in the clergy.

Sound familiar? If you take the statements of the Supreme Leader and both Larijanis, and maybe sprinkle in some Iranian newspaper headlines, they all copy language contained in Mousavi's alleged statement about the recent protests. 

1051 GMT: Is there an echo in here? Ali Larijani said at a press conference in Jahrom today that Iran was a "Stronghold, not to be conquered," inferring western interference in Monday's protests.

“While we are witnessing the emergence of democracy in the region, West is trying to deny it,” Larijani said. "The Islamic states should not be denied of the right to take part in the scene of international developments."

And so the spin continues. Apparently, the regime's version of recent events is that Iran is inspiring revolution in the Arab World, while the United States is inciting it in Iran.

1031 GMT: Blocking Mousavi and Karroubi --- According to the AP, the head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Ardeshir Larijani, has released a statement where he describes the need to block statements from opposition leaders from reaching the public.

"We urge everyone to allow the judicial system to work within the framework of the law," said Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani in comments directed at Iranian people and MPs and reported by state news agency IRNA.

"They (the people) should be certain that we will block the mechanism through which the sedition leaders issue their statements," he said, urging people to be patient and vigilant.

Larijani went on to reiterate that the Iranian people knew who the Americans and zionists supported in Iran. This is standard language, I suppose, but it is worth noting the references to America and its zionist allies in Mousavi's alleged statement (see below). 

Tehran Bureau has published a memorial to the 22-year-old university student killed on Tuesday, "'God, Let Me Die Standing': Remembering Mohammad Mokhtari."

According to The Washington Post, Iran's request to move two warships through the Suez canal has been rescinded.  No reason was given for the withdrawal of the request, but this story kicked up some international contraversy when Israeli officials described the move as a "provocation."

0932 GMT: Rah-e-Sabz is up. 

Deception? A trusted source has published a very interesting article casting doubt on the legitimacy of Mousavi's most recent statement, released yesterday:

"Three of Mousavi’s closest allies have cast doubt on the statement that was released yesterday. It is said that in response to the regime’s brutal accusations, and in Mousavi’s absence, this statement was written by one of his aids and posted under his name on his website.

"Mousavi’s daughters have openly expressed their concern for him and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and have told the website JARAS that they have not been in any contact with their parents and are deeply worried for their health. And in a situation where his senior advisor has also stressed that he has had no communication with him, how did this statement get out?"

The article goes on to question the linguistic choices (Mousavi does not usually use words like "America and their zionist allies"), political choices (Mousavi has not previous described the aims of the reformists as the completion of Khomeini's vision) and Mousavi's condemnation of international support for the movement, which seems contradictory to his acknowledgement of the international community's scorn for the tactics of the regime. (See yesterday's LiveBlog for the statement)

0904 GMT: The Regime Strike Backs. Thanks to Khabar Online, we now know the the "truth." Apparently, according to MP Tavakoli, Monday's protests had nothing to do with Egypt and everything to do with the sedition of Mousavi and Karroubi (I guess we can ignore all the opposition websites that say otherwise). He went on to praise the 32 elections that have been held by the regime, all of which, of course, were free and fair elections. Former chairman of the Majilis, Nategh Nouri, added to these statements, claiming that 25 Bahman was a "mean and ugly action" that failed.

Perhaps more ominous was Tavakoli's statement that this is Khatami's "last chance" to distance himself from the opposition movement. This fits into the regime's stepped-up rhetorical attack on the opposition leaders.

0849 GMT: Quick update ---- Rah-e-Sabz is down (either it was temproarily up or I loaded a cached page earlier, sorry for confussion).

0843 GMT: The names of 16 students arrested yesterday at the funeral of Saneh Jaleh have been released. The current whereabouts of these students is unknown. 

Jaras appears to be back up. No word on why they were down.

GVF - A warning to the regime; the general labor strike at Abadan oil refinery, the second such strike, could be just the beginning. Several sources from Iran have reported that they are inspired by Egyptian labor strikes in the leadup to the ousting of President Mubarak.

A leading opposition website is calling for chants of Allahu Akhbar for three nights to protest the recent crackdown against protesters and for the insults against Mousavi and Karroubi from the Majilis (Iranian parliament). The website also calls for solidarity with the other protests in the region, another clear attempt by the opposition to link their own sturggle with the current wave of pro-democracy activity. 

0827 GMT: It appears that the opposition news site Jaras is down. Over the last few days, we've seen attacks on both opposition and regime websites as the battle over what happened on 25 Bahman continues.

At the University of Arts, the University Islamic Society has declared a week of general mourning over the events that have transpired. All classes will be cancelled during this period of time. 

According to VoA, foreign guests at the Fajr Theater Festival were arrested on Monday for taking pictures of rallies. They were later released.

0730 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Radio Zamaneh reports that regime supporters in Qom, shown on national TV, have chanted for the death of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council.

The crowd backed moves from some inside the establishment for dismissal of Rafsanjani from his posts, as well as for the prosecution and execution of the two opposition leaders, MirHosein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi who issued the rally call for Monday.

The attack on Rafsanjani came despite the Assembly of Experts condemnation of Monday's opposition marches.

0719 GMT: The Zhaleh Clashes. An opposition website claims that the brother of Sanee Zhaleh, the slain 25 Bahman protester, has been arrested.

Zhaleh's family had been warned by authorities not to speak to media, but Zhaleh's brother gave an interview by phone, denying pro-regime claims that Zhaleh was a member of the Basij militia. (see Wednesday's updates).

0635 GMT: Blackout on Mousavi. We return to our colleague Masih Alinejad's interview with the daughters of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard, published on Tuesday:

 

Given the current condition, there is much ambiguity regarding the well being. The bodyguards have been pressured to ensure that there is no contact with family members....We are concerned because we have been left completely in the dark. We are unaware of what is going on behind these closed doors and the unimaginable acts being committed against them. We don't know what has happened to Mousavi and Rahnavard. Who is responsible for their protection? We don't even know if our parents are in the house or if they have been moved to another location.

 

We have no indication that this situation has changed in the last 36 hours.

0620 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Opposition websites say more than 600 relatives of people detained during Monday's rallies are still gathered outside Evin Prison in Tehran.

Detained filmmaker Mohammad Reza Nourizad has reportedly been moved to hospital with kidney and heart problems.

0615 GMT: Supporting the Cleric. Followers of Grand Ayatollah Vahid Khorasani have gathered to protest the suppression of his lecture by a group allied with Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, a fervent supporter of the Government.

Vahid Khorasani's followers said the Supreme Leader had to be accountable for the episode. 

0600 GMT: The 25 Bahman Casualty. The effort to establish the "real" Sanee Zhaleh continues --- one of his short stories, "The Bus", has been translated into English.

0545 GMT: The regime's counter-offensive against Monday's revived display of opposition is moving at full pace.

Yesterday, the leadership tried to claim --- metaphorically and literally --- the bodies of two protesters killed on 25 Bahman, Sanee Zhaleh and Mohammad Mokhtari. Zhaleh's funeral was turned into an occasion for the regime to claim he was a loyal "martyr", killed by members of the "terrorist" Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MKO). His family were asked not to come to Tehran for the funeral and warned not to speak to foreign media. Mokhtari has reportedly been buried without the approval of his parents.

That initiative fell apart, at least on the Internet, as Zhaleh was established as a university student who had supported reformist candidates and joined post-election demonstrations. However, before then, Basij members had invaded a ceremony held at the Tehran University of Fine Arts, where Zhaleh studied, and roughed up students, several of whom were arrested. It was later reported that the university's students will go on strike for a week in protest.

And Zhaleh's funeral was turned into a photo opportunity for the regime's campaign to tear down opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and former President Mohammad Khatami.

Photo: Meghdad Medadi (Fars)

The regime is staging statements, in Parliament and by officials, to do everything except formally arrest Mousavi and Karroubi. Amidst declarations that they should face the death penalty, both opposition figures remain under effective house arrest, with Mousavi's communications completely cut.

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