IRAN: Police chief warns against protest rallies as opposition gears up to mark election anniversary
As the Islamic Republic prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of last year's disputed June 12 presidential election, Tehran's police chief Hossein Sajedinia issued a stern warning against demonstrations next month, setting the stage for a potential new face-off between hard-line-controlled security forces and opposition supporters.
"Police will confront any illegal gatherings ... police are vigilant and in charge of public order and security," the Iranian Labor News Agency quoted Sajedinia as saying earlier this week.
Both of the leading Iranian opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, have urged their supporters to turn out for a peaceful demonstration on the anniversary of the June 12 presidential poll they say was rigged.
Opposition websites report that the two reformist figures are asking the Interior Ministry for permission to hold a peaceful rally that day and that they've asked their supporters to keep checking websites close to the opposition for the latest information on the day's events, should they not be granted permission for the rallies.
That's exactly what 27-year-old Nargess, a law student at Tehran university and an opposition supporter, is planning on doing in the interlude to the election anniversary.
"I am waiting for the addresses on the Web to know where to be on June 12," she told Babylon & Beyond.
Near the university campus, green graffiti can be found sprayed on walls calling on opposition supporters to raise their spirits and gear up for the election anniversary.
"Keep on being hopeful. Green June 12 is coming," read one message.
Other fresh politically oriented graffiti in greater Tehran includes catchphrases supportive of Mousavi, also written with green marker, and anti-government slogans.
An employee at a printing house in Tehran told Babylon & Beyond that he had seen hundreds of small note cards inviting people to take part in election anniversary rallies.Saeed, 25, a student who was expelled from his university because of his political activities, told Babylon & Beyond that he thinks there will be an eye-catching number of protesters out in the streets of Tehran on that day.
Questions, however, over the strength and the vision of the opposition movement have arisen since it sprang to life in the aftermath of last year's disputed poll. Media reports suggested the movement was losing steam after demonstrators started turning out at protests in considerably smaller numbers than before. Some have criticized the leaders for not being forceful enough.
But in a recent interview, Karroubi said the movement was a grass-roots attempt at change. "This movement belongs to the people," he told the website Jaras. "The people are its leaders and as such it will move in the direction desired by the people. The pulse of the movement is in the hands of the people. In fact, if there were to be any leader other than the people, those opposing the movement would make sure that leadership is eliminated."
Still, the outspoken opposition leader reiterated his key role as a leading opposition figure as and his steadfastness, vowing to not give in to intimidation by the authorities.
"They have attacked my house two times," he said. "They closed down my private office, my political party and the newspaper associated with my political party. They intended to kill me in Qazvin. They attacked both myself and my security personnel on numerous occasions during various demonstrations. They have arrested everyone close to me. This ruling government needs to know that Mehdi Karroubi is willing to pay any price for this movement."
Some say government clampdowns on the opposition have taken such a heavy toll on the movement and that it will need some time to recharge its batteries before it can make a strong comeback.
The recent executions of a number of Kurdish activists on terrorism charges and the current crackdown on un-Islamic dress by Iran's moral police are also viewed by some as attempts by the Iranian authorities to deter opposition supporters from staging public rallies on the charged election anniversary.
"I think there might be some pockets of surprise," 54-year-old Ahmad, a bookseller in Tehran, told Babylon & Beyond. "But for sure there will not be a huge turnout of people. Based on the leadership and heavy-handed clampdown on protesters, I think the anniversary will not be a big deal. But it does not imply that the crisis is over. In the long term, it will flourish into full blossom."
Top: Anti-government protesters clashed with security forces on several occasions in the violent aftermath of last year's disputed Iranian presidential poll, leaving dozens of demonstrators dead and wounded. Credit: Agence France-Presse.
Middle: Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi greeting crowds of supporters in a Tehran square.
Bottom: Reform figure Mehdi Karroubi has, just like Mousavi, called on his supporters to stage peaceful rallies on June 12 marking the one-year anniversary of the poll they say was rigged. Credit: Agence France-Presse