Mothers Arrested Before Opposition Rally in Iran

Dec 5, 20090 comments

Ahead of a planned opposition rally on Monday, Iran tightened security and arrested over 20 mothers who were mourning children killed in the unrest that has broken out since the disputed June 12 elections. The mothers took part in an antigovernment protest in Leleh Park in central Tehran every Saturday since the death in June of Neda Agha-Soltan, 26, whose shooting became a symbol of the government’s violent repression. The rally had been attacked by the police before, but Saturday was the first time the mothers were arrested. An opposition Web site reported that the protest was broken up by the police and many demonstrators were taken away. The BBC Persian service quoted a witness who said 29 women were arrested, some of whom were later released. But at least 21 remained in jail, the BBC said. Ms. Agha-Soltan’s mother regularly attended the rally, but it was not clear whether she was there on Saturday or was among those arrested. The arrests appear to be part of the government’s increasing efforts to suppress a large rally planned for Monday on National Student Day. The authorities have ordered foreign news media not to cover the event and Internet service was reduced to a trickle on Saturday, so slow that it was impossible to “open e-mails or any Web pages,” a journalist in Tehran said. The measure appeared to be aimed at preventing information about the crackdown or the protest to get outside the country and also to deprive the opposition from its key means, the Internet and Facebook, to mobilize their supporters. Videos posted online have played a critical role in showing the world what has been happening inside Iran. The government has also arrested dozens of student leaders in Tehran and across the country in the past weeks. However, students continued to say they would hold demonstrations at universities around the country on Monday. In Tehran, the nightly rooftop chants of “Allahu akbar,” meaning “God is great,” an opposition ritual since June, were louder than usual Sunday night. “The chants rocked Tehran,” said the journalist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, out of fear for his safety. “People will also go out tomorrow but only to stop the traffic. It won’t be as large as previous protests.” There are no plans for street demonstrations on Monday but students plan to hold demonstrations inside universities, which security forces are banned from entering. However, hard-line members of the Basij militia force at the universities often raid the student protests. Mir Hussein Moussavi, one of the two opposition leaders who ran against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June, issued a statement on Sunday characterizing the movement “as alive” despite government suppression. He warned that the authorities could not end the protests with the arrests of students because one in 20 Iranians were university students, several opposition sites reported. “They are asking us to forget about the election results as though people are concerned only about the elections,” he said. “How can we make them understand that this is not the issue? It is not about who the president is or is not; the issue is that they have sold out a great nation.” Mr. Moussavi has been issuing statements regularly since June. Despite threats of arrest, he remains free, but his movement is restricted, according to an ally outside the country. His comments were followed by criticism of the government by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential politician who sided with the opposition but had been silent recently. “Constructive criticism is not tolerated in the country,” Mr. Rafsanjani said at a meeting with students in the city of Mashad, according to the Web site “It was not right to put the Basij and the Revolutionary Guards to confront the people.” Next Saturday, six months after Election Day, protests are planned around the world “to honor the Iranian people’s peaceful struggle for their human and civil rights,” according to the organizer, United4Iran, a network of activists supporting human rights in Iran.