Growing and spreading
disobedience and international pressure leading up to July
June 24, 3003
History is made with one brave act at a time.
The spontaneous protests against the clerical rulers of Iran
of young Iranians, led mainly by university students in Tehran
and other major cities has once again ignited passionate calls
for democracy and the rule of law and human rights. Pro-reformists,
liberals, journalists and several clerics have challenged the mullahs
who act as God's emissaries. All this is happening at a time
when the US has expressed its full support for pro-democracy forces
inside Iran and sided with both the UN atomic energy agency and
the EU to curtail the Islamic Republic's controversial nuclear
It began unexpectedly. On Tuesday, June 10, 2003,
many of the LA based television and radio stations run by exiled
their regular programming interrupted by some "good news". It
was already Wednesday in Iran and the situation was portrayed as
"indescribable". Soon all lines were besieged by frantic callers,
many of them self-appointed
reporters in the streets of Tehran.
The excitement in their voices was infectious as they described
how a small student protest against proposed university privatisations
had turned into a mass protest by thousands of ordinary people
flocking to the campus to chant slogans. "We want freedom," they
shouted, "Down with the dictator! Long live students!"
Other reports described the massive traffic jams as hundreds of
cars headed towards the focus of the unrest. When security forces
blocked their way, many drivers took to blaring their horns to
show their contempt for the Supreme Leader Khamenei, Rafsanjani,
and President Khatami for his failed promises and impotence.
In a country rife with high unemployment and a growing frustration
with strict Islamic laws the protests appeared unplanned and no
specific leader emerged to lead it. Nevertheless when the student
crowds reached an estimated 3,000 strong police and vigilantes
who support the Supreme Leader moved in to crush the revolt. "We
will show them no pity," Khamenei told his fanatical supporters.
For the next two days hundreds of demonstrators were beaten and
arrested with a brutality reminiscent of the 1999 failed student
uprising whose fourth anniversary will be held on 9th July.
The authorities blamed "US-backed hooligans and monarchist
elements" for the troubles and downplayed their importance.
But the demonstrations continued and soon spread to Tabriz, Isfahan,
Ahvaz and Shiraz where one person was killed in mysterious circumstances.
By Friday the violence had taken a sinister turn when hundreds
of pro- Khamenei "thugs" on motorcycles (armed with
knives and machine-guns) roamed the university campus chasing students
through the hallways of three dormitories.
Digital photos taken by dissidents and emailed to opposition web
sites showed pools of blood strewn against the walls and floors
with shocking effect.
On several occasions members of the public opened their doors to
harbour protestors often taking the blows themselves. In one case
vigilantes stormed a house and beat up a family of five including
an eight-year-old boy who was kicked in the head after being dragged
out of a closet where he had sought refuge.
The next day, over a hundred students were injured with one stabbed
in the heart and 50 taken to hospital. As the news captured world
headlines the Tehran authorities tried to calm the situation by
arresting Saeed Asgar, a leader of the vigilantes.
Reaction in Washington and London towards the unfolding events
appeared uncertain and at times contradictory. President Bush praised
the Iranian protests as a "positive development". Speaking
over the weekend in Maine he said, "This is the beginning
of people expressing themselves toward a free Iran".
In Britain, Foreign Minister Jack Straw urged Iran to allow stricter
checks of its suspicious nuclear program which the EU and the US
believe is a guise for developing nuclear bombs, but warned the
world to let Tehran manage pro-reform protests by itself.
Many Iranians opposing the theocratic regime were outraged by Straw's
insistence that Britain's "constructive engagement" with
the mullahs was slowly bearing fruit. He also urged "non-interference"
by outside forces so that the Iranians could "sort out their
The cautious line by Britain was reflected in most of the country's
press and media which contrasted with a more aggressive one by
its ally the United States which applauded the student protests
as a fight for freedom by the Iranian people.
Some Iranian exiles have criticised the British position as hypocritical
and an insult to the Iranian freedom movement. Only a few days
earlier, Michael Thomas, the DTI's Iran consultant announced
that it would be a "great mistake" to reverse the policy
of engaging the mullahs when the two countries were on the brink
of a trade bonanza. Britain's exports currently worth £1
billion could double, he said.
Later this summer, the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, is
expected to host a business conference in London to discuss the
financial future of the Islamic republic of Iran. Some student
activists have threatened to boycott the event.
In France, over 1,300 police raided the offices of the Mujaheddin-e
Khalq accused of links to terrorism, rounding up it leader, Maryam
Rajavi, and 165 members. It is not clear whether the raid was part
of a deal with Tehran or aimed at dismantling the organisation
because of its connections with Saddam's ousted regime.
After many days of demonstrations in Iran more than 250 dissident
intellectuals and clerics mounted an unprecedented challenge to
the ruling mullahs, all but accusing them of heresy by portraying
themselves as God's emissaries on earth. One parliamentarian
bravely denounced the crackdown on the students as "worse
than the Mongols" a reference to the historical invasion
Reports from Iran spoke of many young people taken to detention
centres and forced to recant their "bad behaviour". Among
those arrested was the sister and brother-in-law of Amir Abbas
Fakhravar, an Iranian pro-democracy activist serving an eight year
prison sentence in the notorious Qasr Prison. There was no news
about the whereabouts of the couple's one year old child.
Amnesty International was monitoring these developments with grave
Political analysts warn of further acts of civil disobedience in
the weeks leading up to the July 9th. Underground student organisations
have vowed to continue their fight for a secular democracy. "Their
determination is frightening," one diplomat admitted. The
clerical regime is hoping to show a united front against the intense
pressure applied by the neo-conservative Bush Administration.
Meanwhile in Shiraz, a city always famed for its roses and poets,
the inhabitants mourned the young man believed to have been killed
by security forces. In California, home to a million Iranian exiles,
Persian television and radio urged their fellow compatriots to
send flowers to the slain student's parents. The name of
the activist who died crying for freedom was Parham Vatankhah.
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