NIAC is liveblogging the events of Feb. 11 in Iran, which marks the latest day of planned opposition protests as well as the anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic. We encourage readers to share their own news and insights in the comments section below.
2:36 pm: More from the Senate presser. John McCain, speaking about the new Iran Human Rights Sanctions Act:
The United States must lead an international effort to support the human rights of the Iranian people, and to put that effort at the center of our policy toward Iran. This is not about picking winners in an internal Iranian matter. It’s about standing up for the universal values we hold dear and championing the cause of all who seek to secure those values for themselves.
1:49 pm: Senate focuses on Iran human rights. As Laura Rozen reported this morning, Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman are introducing a bill imposing sanctions on Iran — nothing new there — but this time the focus is not on the nuclear program, but rather the human rights violations going on.
The scheme is straightforward: the bill requires the President to draw up and periodically update a list of names of individuals who have committed human rights abuses in Iran,” a Senate aide says. “These individuals are then subject to a set of targeted sanctions, including a visa ban and various financial restrictions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.”
The list will also be public, so that other governments and people around the world, including in Iran, can see who these individuals are, the aide continued. It also includes a presidential waiver that can be exercised on a case-by-case basis. “The overall sanctions scheme lifts when the President can certify that the Iranian government has taken certain tangible steps to improve the human rights situation inside the country, such as releasing all political prisoners.
The press conference, which is still going on, is available here, via C-Span.
12:46 pm: “Allah-u Akbar,” “Death to Dictator” rooftop chants tonight. JARAS is reporting that opposition supporters are planning to shout “death to the dictator” alongside their usual chants of “Allah-u Akbar” tonight. (h/t NYT)
12:42 pm: Most mainstream news outlets have validated my initial assessment earlier today (9:02 am) about the government using security services to maintain relative control over the opposition’s activities. Tehran Bureau called it an “anti-climax,” and AP is reporting many opposition supporters being deflated at the size and strength of opposition rallies compared to the pro-government one.
[T]he massive security clampdown appeared to succeed in preventing protesters from converging into a cohesive demonstrations. Large numbers of riot police, members of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij militiamen, some on motorcycles, deployed in back streets near key squares and major avenues in the capital to move against protesters.
Without playing the game of counter-factuals, it is important to note just how differently today could have gone. Following Ashura, which rocked the hardliners to their very core, many expected today’s protests to be even larger and more well organized. Many more dreaded the possibility that Basij and security personnel would fire on the crowds and kill scores. Obviously that did not happen today, though the Basijis were as violent as ever in dispersing the crowds.
For those who yearn for democratic progress and respect for human rights in Iran, as we do, days like today will always be difficult to watch. It’s a catch-22: for the “greens” to prevail, many believe they will have to endure massive violence, brutality, and chaos. But the world can hardly abide the violence, brutality, and chaos that we have already witnessed. And so, faced with this difficult challenge, many in the West on Facebook and in the blogosphere simply turn against one another, choosing to engage in petty backbiting rather than keeping the focus where it belongs: on the struggle that continues to be waged by average, ordinary people in Iran. Frankly, they couldn’t care less what we think or what our problems with one another are.
12:13 pm: Our contact in Iran (11:58) also points out a big distinction between the various types of security personnel surrounding the demonstrations — the ordinary police forces versus the Basij, or as our contact calls them the “gladiators.” For those on the ground in Iran, the ordinary police force is much more ambivalent about cracking down on opposition activities — the guards at the makeshift prison that was overrun by protesters were police, not Basij, which made a big difference to the opposition supporters.
11:58 am: A contact in Iran who attended the rallies in and around Azadi and Sadeghieh Square this morning told us of his experience, which left him bruised and cut from scuffling with security forces.
According to the source, the biggest difference between today’s events and previous demonstrations was the amount of undercover police among the crowd. The moment anyone indicated an opposition or “green” point of view, plainclothes militiamen would come out of nowhere and take that person away. One gentleman remarked about all the buses funneling people in from out of town, only to be whisked away by three undercover agents.
Our contact was also one of the protesters shot with an orange paint pellet, to mark him for arrest at a later time. He managed to find a hiding place where he could wipe the paint off of his pants to evade detection.
Finally, during the morning’s rallies, he recounted an experience where three protesters were being held by police in a makeshift pen, when a group of other opposition supporters came to the rescue. They so outnumbered the police guards, throwing rocks and yelling for their release, that the crowd broke down the holding pen and freed the three.
11:35 am: IAEA on Iran’s “modest” new enrichment. AP obtained an internal IAEA document regarding the enrichment work announced in this morning’s speech by President Ahmadinejad, which for the first time took uranium above the 5% level in Iran. “Iran expects to produce its first batch of higher enriched uranium in a few days but its initial effort is modest, using only a small amount of feedstock and a fraction of its capacities,” it said. “It should be noted that there is currently only one cascade … that is capable of enriching” up to 20 percent, said the document.
The document, relying on onsite reports from International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, also cited Iranian experts at the enrichment plant at Natanz as saying that only about 10 kilograms — 22 pounds — of low enriched uranium had been fed into the cascade for further enrichment.
Agency inspectors were told Wednesday “that it was expected that the facility would begin to produce up to 20 percent enriched … (uranium) within a few days,” said the one-page document.
11:22 am: Tehran Bureau has an interview with Karroubi’s son, Hossein.
How is your father Haj Agha Mehdi Karroubi? We’re treating him for burns to his face and eyes. He’s having trouble with his lungs too. He was badly attacked with pepper spray. Plainclothes agents (vigilantes) approached him and kept spraying it in his eyes. He’s resting at home though; he’s not been hospitalized.
Any news of your brother Ali?
We haven’t been able to figure out where he is. Everyone we call claims to have no information on him. We believe he’s in the custody of the law enforcement agency.
11:05 am: Recap. Most reports indicate that people are heading home right about now. The day was characterized by the contrasting styles of the one large government-sponsored rally in the morning with tens of thousands of people, versus the numerous smaller and nimbler gatherings by the opposition forces. There have been no confirmed cases of protesters being killed, (though rumors abound), and most likely the number of arrests is in the low hundreds. Protests occurred in most of the major cities, but the heaviest presence was felt by far in Tehran.
Many commenters are calling the presence of governmental security forces “stifling,” using violence and intimidation to prevent demonstrations from growing beyond relatively small numbers. With over a month to prepare, the government’s security forces were out in full force today, immediately reacting when opposition leaders like Karroubi, Khatami, and Mousavi appeared among the people. For much of this week, Internet service was spotty and Gmail has been taken down completely, all in preparation for today’s expected events. (Compare this to Ashura, when the government had hardly any time at all to prepare, and the reaction by Basij and police was much more careless and led to more bloodshed). Family members of opposition leaders were beaten or detained, and there was never an opportunity to rally supporters around the green movement’s figureheads.
10:30 am: Brutality.
9:32 am: Via Mir Hossein Mousavi’s Facebook page, Kalame news is reporting:
Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, wife of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was intending to join the people in the demonstration from Sadeghiye Square was surrounded and attacked by plain clothes militia. The plain clothes militia physically assaulted her and beat her with batons at her head and back. Zahra Rahnavard after this incident with the support of a large crowd of people who made a human shield to protect her, was able to leave the area.
9:21 am: The Guardian relays an AP interview with protesters today, who were dejected for the same reason mentioned below at 9:02.
“There were 300 of us, maximum 500. Against 10,000 people,” one protester said.
“It means they won and we lost. They defeated us. They were able to gather so many people. But this doesn’t mean we have been defeated for good. It’s a defeat for now, today. We need time to regroup,” she said.
Another protester insisted the opposition had come out in significant numbers, but “the problem was that we were not able to gather in one place because they (security forces) were very violent.”
It should be noted that this is actually not at all the representative view for most opposition supporters being reported on today. Many green activists on Twitter have been circulating messages saying the goal of the opposition today was to disrupt the government’s official ceremony, and that it was a victory.
9:02 am: It’s still very early to be drawing conclusions from today’s events, as people are still out in the streets. But one thing I’m struck by is just how much the government has been in control today. Sure, they chartered busses and lured tens of thousands to the official government rally with free food, but they have also managed to keep the opposition activities largely on their terms today.
The government’s strategy is to depict the protesters as a small group of rioting thugs, burning trash cans and disrupting order for their own radical, “foreign-backed” agenda. Toward that end, they have been very effective at keeping the demonstrations today dispersed and nervous — less of the “million man march” and more like Seattle WTO protesters. Above all else, the ruling elites know the danger of big crowds: strength in numbers takes over and individuals no longer feel like they will be held accountable for their actions, thus their demands get more radical and their tactics more extreme; this forces a harsher backlash from security forces, possibly including using lethal force. And then that’s the ball-game. That’s exactly what happened in 1979, and Khamenei learned that lesson well enough that he’ll do his utmost not to repeat it.
So today’s events (like previous ones) have seen security forces disrupt crowds before they can coalesce into a large group, arresting numerous individuals as a way of controlling the crowds before they get out of the police’s hands.
8:42 am: Josh Shahryar has catalogued most of the opposition rallies today, with his own figures for numbers arrested by police forces. By his account, thousands gathered in Esfahan at the See-o-Seh Bridge, where security forces tried to disperse the demonstators with tear gas. Also, protests occured in Ahvaz, Shiraz, Mashad, and of course, Tehran, with skirmishes involving security forces either arresting individuals, blocking protesters routes, or in some cases firing tear gas and beating anyone showing any sign of opposition activity.
Interestingly, many accounts we’ve been hearing involve protesters being hesitant to wear green, flash a V for victory sign, or even chant openly out of fear of backlash from security personnel. In some cases, particularly at Azadi Square where Ahmadinejad addressed the official government rally, security forces scanned the crowd watching for any signs of “green” activity, and quickly pulled people out of the group as soon as they were given cause.
8:15 am: Indisputable. Via United4Iran, this video of protesters tearing down a photo of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and then trampling on it:
Remember that even in the heady days of protests this summer, it would have been unthinkable for protesters to deface an image of the Supreme Leader. In a short eight months, the demands of the demonstrators have evolved, and their tactics have advanced as well.
8:11 am: Via Twitter and other unconfirmed reports, security forces are supposedly firing paint bullets at opposition protesters, which is a tactic the security forces previously used to identify protesters after the fact in order to arrest them.
7:50 am: More clashes. Radio Zamaaneh reports (via IranNewsNow):
An eyewitness told Radio Zamaneh that in Aryashar, in the west of Tehran, protesters are being beaten up by government forces. Anti-riot police have used electric batons to disperse the crowds and some protesters have been sighted with blood on their faces.
Nedaye Sabz Azadi also reports of shootings in that area as well as altercations in Vanak Square in the north. Reportedly some protesters detained in Vanak have been transferred to a building in Brazil Street.
The pro-government crowd is being hyped by the State media. Fars News Agency estimates “five million” government supporters have gathered in Tehran for the February 11 demonstration while Associated Press reported “hundreds of thousands” in Azadi Square.
7:40 am: At 10 minutes past 4pm Tehran time, opposition supporters are converging on major squares, including Hafte Tir, Tajrish, Enghelab Street, ValiAsr, and many more.
7:25 am: Those in attendance at the official government rally in Azadi square in Tehran lined up to receive free food and souvenirs from a vendor in this video below (via homylafayette):
Interestingly, both the opposition rallies and the government rally in Tehran have not been as charged as in previous days. The state security forces have disrupted many of the opposition protests, with the North Tehran neighborhoods remaining the opposition stronghold. Though supporters of the opposition have been planning to enter into the streets at 4pm local time (right now).
7:15 am: Overreaction. British Ambassador to Iran Simon Gass announced that he would be boycotting today’s official ceremonies, saying it would be “inappropriate due to the range of problems” between the UK and Iran, the Times is reporting. In what most would say is an over-reaction, the Iranian government “refused to accept the deputy head of mission instead, and threatened to prevent the ambassador from holding any future meetings with officials or ministers.”
7:10 am: Back in the Beltway, the snow is getting to be too much for some… Over at the new conservative website the Daily Caller, Christian Whiton has a piece today titled Buying Time for Iran’s Green Movement, in which he argues that the US must put military options “on the table” at the same time we consider sending material support to the protesters.
Finding ways to assist the Green Movement is difficult but important. It is true that many Green Movement participants do not want the involvement of the U.S. government. Furthermore, the leadership and goals of the movement appear to be in flux. But dissent movements rarely succeed without some form of international support, and regardless of the protestors’ stated preferences, U.S. security interests compel us to get involved.
Whiton, who served in the Bush Administration’s State Department and who should probably know better, puts on a fascinating display of Orientalism here. Putting aside the cognitive dissonance about bombing a people at the same time you’re sending them aid, Whiton explains himself by saying: “Just because today’s Movement participants deprecate U.S. involvement, it does not mean that avenues of moral and material support to newly emerging leaders will not be welcomed or effective in the years ahead—even if unrequested.”
6:57 am: Clashes in Ahvaz. Reports now of demonstrations, clashes with security forces in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, near the Iraqi border.
6:47 am: Phone call from Tajrish: An individual called into an online radio show saying:
Listen to this. I’m in Tajrish (a neighborhood in North Tehran) (In the backgroung, there is loug chanting: ‘With God’s help, victory is near. Death to this deceitful government.’
6:42 am: “Basiji, the threat of tanks does not have an effect on us!”. More videos, via “onlymehdi”.
6:32 am: ZENDAYIE SIASSY AZAD BAYAD GARDAND. One popular chant being heard today is translated as “Political prisoners must be freed.”
6:24 am: Tehran, Tabriz, and more. So far, the security forces have tried to disrupt opposition rallies in Tehran and Tabriz, firing tear-gas and detaining protesters. According to the LA Times:
After noon, a witness reported clashes along Enghelab Street east of Azadi Square, where security forces began arresting people.
Security forces on side streets were beating people, the witness said, with a dozen or so Basiji militiamen deployed at each intersection and uniformed security forces trying in vain to disperse crowds chanting, “Death to the dictator.”
Clashes also broke out around Vali Asr Square, where a motorcycle was torched. Military helicopters hovered over the area.
There were also reports of clashes in other Iranian cities, including Isfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz
6:16 am: Much of the mainstream media’s coverage this morning is focusing on President Ahmadinejad’s speech, which lasted over an hour and which focused nearly entirely on the idea of an “external threat” that must be guarded against at all costs — namely the West — as well as the announcement that Iran has produced uranium enriched up to 20%. (Though I haven’t seen it mentioned in any press coverage, technically I believe the uranium was enriched up to 19.75%, as that is the upper threshold of what is defined as low-enriched uranium).
In his speech, Ahmadinejad announced that Iran is capable of enriching up to 80% if it wanted, though it has not plans to as of yet. Of course, having a working centrifuge program, Iran is technically capable of going higher than 80% — no explanation was given for why Ahmadinejad chose 80% as the number he highlighted in his speech.
6:09 am: Videos: As always, Youtube is awash with videos purporting to be from today’s demonstrations. As of yet, the size and scope of the official government rally dwarfs any of the other anti-government protests, though the tear-gas and riot police have a lot to do with that.
These videos are just a sample (h/t EA):
6:00 am: Guerrilla Radio. AFP is also reporting that the opposition launched its very own impromptu radio station over the Internet late this morning.
Hitting back at official efforts to stifle news of opposition protests, the opposition launched an impromptu radio station on the Internet in the late morning.
The scratchy, live broadcast flashed news reports about the attacks on opposition leaders, and clashes between protesters and security forces, including the Basij militia.
5:54 am: The first big clashes came this morning in Sadeghieh Square, about one kilometer away from Tehran’s Azadi square (pictured above from last summer). Azadi square was the site of the government’s major celebration, and was the location where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave his speech marking the occasion of the revolution’s anniversary. In his speech, President Ahmadinejad announced Iran’s first batch of 20% enriched uranium.
According to Rahesabz, an opposition website, Mohammad Reza Khatami and his wife Zahra Eshraghi were briefly arrested at Sadeghieh square, though were later released. Ali Karroubi, the son of opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, was also arrested.
5:46 am: AFP is reporting that Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami came under attack this morning, saying their cars came under attack by police and plainclothes security forces, but that neither one of them was hurt.
According to an interview with Karroubi’s son: “Karroubi and his car came under attack by hardliners, people being beaten up.”
5:41 am: As always, our friends at Enduring America are hard at work bringing up-to-the minute coverage with a healthy dose of dry wit as an added bonus. Check them out.
5:27 am EST: Permanent ban on Gmail? Late yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Iran’s telecommunications agency announced a “permanent suspension” of Google’s Gmail service in Iran. This past summer, during the crackdown on speech, press, and assembly that followed the election dispute, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) purchased a controlling stake in the Iranian telecom company, giving them wide latitude to monitor and disrupt communication throughout the country.
It is no surprise that Gmail is being targeted–given Google’s recent actions regarding government censorship in China, as well as the fact that Gmail has widely been regarded as one of the more secure email services available to the public. Iranian human rights defenders and activists among the One Million Signatures women’s rights campaign often encourage each other to utilize Gmail, instead of Yahoo or other email services, due to the level of security it offers.