Iranian Police Move to Break Up Mourning Ceremony

Jul 30th, 2009 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

Iranian Police Move to Break Up Mourning Ceremony


New York Times

Published: July 30, 2009

Riot police officers ordered the Iranian opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi to leave a contentious mourning ceremony on Thursday commemorating those killed in the unrest after Iran’s disputed presidential election, news reports said.

A man was detained by an officer during riots in Tehran on June 14. Officials say about 150 of those jailed remain in prison.

Neda Solton

Neda Solton

Quoting unidentified witnesses, news reports said Mr. Moussavi went to the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery on Tehran’s southern outskirts to commemorate the dead, particularly Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman who was shot to death in post-election violence. Amateur video showing her bleeding to death had become a global icon of resistance to the electoral victory claimed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after the June 12 elections.

News reports said hundreds of people gathered around Ms. Agha-Soltan’s grave as Mr. Moussavi arrived at the cemetery. He approached the grave, but the police forced him to return to his car before he could offer prayers. He drove off as arguments broke out between mourners and police, these reports said.

The authorities had earlier denied permission to hold a formal mourning ceremony.

Other reports said the police arrested mourners and tried to force them to disperse, but there were conflicting reports about the extent of the police action.

The Associated Press put the number of opposition supporters at the cemetery at about 1,000, some of them chanting Mr. Moussavi’s name and “death to the dictator.” About 500 policemen stood by but did not use force to break up the gathering, The A.P. said, quoting witnesses who asked not to be identified out of security concerns.

The English-language state-owned television broadcaster, Press TV, later reported that the police dispersed the demonstrators.

Earlier on Thursday, The A.P. said, the police arrested two prominent Iranian filmmakers when they tried to lay flowers at Ms. Agha-Soltan’s grave. One of them was Jafar Panahi, best known for his film “The Circle,” which was critical of the treatment of women under the Islamist government and was banned in Iran. A female associate and documentary maker, Mahnaz Mohammadi, was arrested with him, The A.P. said.

Thursday was a day of unusual symbolic importance because 40 days have passed since the shooting of Ms. Agha-Soltan. The 40th day marks an important Shiite mourning ritual, and similar commemorations for dead protesters fueled the demonstrations that led to the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

On Wednesday, the authorities said more detainees who had been arrested in the post-election crackdown would soon be freed but also that 20 protesters charged with serious crimes would be put on trial, starting this weekend.

There were new arrests, including those of two prominent reformists, Saeed Shariati and Shayesteh Amiri, opposition Web sites reported. Separately, an “underground network providing foreign media outlets with photos and footage of the post-election unrest” was identified and its members arrested, the state-run Press TV reported, citing security forces.

The report said that the network was made up of “pro-reform extremists” and that at least two members had confessed to providing images of the unrest to Western news media in an effort to “stage a regime change” in Iran. The Iranian leadership has blamed foreign news outlets for encouraging the riots and rallies.

On Tuesday, the authorities released 140 detainees, amid accusations that jailed protesters had been tortured and killed. Prominent conservatives and senior clerics have joined the opposition in denouncing the abuses, and the release of the detainees appeared to be part of a government effort to defuse the issue.

Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, a dissident and one of Iran’s most senior clerics, issued a fierce statement on Wednesday on his Web site, saying the government’s closing of one notorious detention center was not enough. “Was the shah able to resist the protests by jailing, torturing, extracting confessions and lying?” he said, referring to the fall of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in the 1979 revolution.

There were more conciliatory gestures from the government on Wednesday, with Iran’s top police official, Brig. Gen. Ismail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, saying some officers “went to extremes” and caused damage during the post-election protests, Press TV reported. The prosecutor general of Iran, Ayatollah Qorban-Ali Dorri-Najafabadi, said that more detainees would soon be released and that a “serious judicial inquiry” was being conducted into prison deaths after the election, Iranian news agencies reported.

But the authorities have also said that their clemency is limited, and that protesters who crossed the line will be punished. The 20 protesters whose trial is scheduled to start this weekend are charged with “attacking military units and universities, sending pictures to enemy media, carrying firearms and explosives, organizing thugs and rioters, and vandalizing public property,” state television reported.

President Ahmadinejad has also drawn criticism from fellow hard-liners after he refused to obey a command from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to drop a controversial deputy from his cabinet.

Robert F. Worth reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Nazila Fathi from Toronto. Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris.

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