From Democracy Now--Crackdown in Iran: Up to 12 Dead, Hundreds Arrested in Opposition Protests: AMY GOODMAN: We begin today with Iran, where police
December 29, 2009

From Democracy Now--Crackdown in Iran: Up to 12 Dead, Hundreds Arrested in Opposition Protests:

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today with Iran, where police opened fire into crowds of protesters Sunday, killing a number of people, including the nephew of the defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. The Iranian government confirmed five deaths, but opposition websites say as many as twelve protesters have been killed in cities across Iran. Security forces have also arrested a number of prominent opposition figures.

The protests took place on Ashura, one of the holiest days in the Shiite Muslim calendar. They were the bloodiest and among the largest anti-government protests since the uprisings that followed the disputed presidential election in June. Hundreds of people were reported wounded, and 300 were arrested in Tehran.

The protests also marked one week since the death of the dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who had become a fierce critic of Iran’s leaders in recent months. Amateur videos uploaded on the internet show bloody scenes of police and Basij militias brutally attacking crowds of protesters. There are also scenes of protesters pushing back police forces with rocks and setting police cars and motorcycles on fire.

For more, I’m joined on the phone by Hadi Ghaemi. He is the director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. He’s closely tracking developments in Iran.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us what you know. And why the latest round of protests and attacks on the protesters?

HADI GHAEMI: Good morning, Amy, and thanks for having me.

As you mentioned, yesterday Iran was the scene of a major unrest. And we see that the political crisis in that country six months after the election, not only not coming to an end, but it’s expanding, and the government and the Supreme Leader are facing major issues of legitimacy. And basically, the political elites who have been in charge of the country for the past thirty years have come to head-on war with each other. And yesterday showed that the level of violence is escalating.

And it was very, very disturbing to see that on the holiest day of the Shiite calendar the government felt free to use violence, and as many as ten people throughout the country are reported killed. That has been a shocking development for many people, because even thirty years ago when protests were taking place against the Shah, the Shah’s military did not open fire on that day. And now we see a government that has claims to religious authority basically overlooking all that and killing its own people on that day.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance more of Ashura and also the death of the nephew of the presidential candidate.

HADI GHAEMI: Ashura is the holiest day for the Shiites, because it marks the martyrdom of their third Imam, who is really their hero, the man who stood up against tyranny. And even though he did not have an army, only with seventy-two people, he took out on a much larger army to fight for his ideals and what he believed was a fight against tyrannical, so that imagery has been very potent in Shiite version of Islam. And yesterday was a day where every day in Iran people congregate to mark that day. And to see it turned violent was very shocking for many people.

Now, the death of—the death of the nephew of the opposition leader, Mousavi, is being reported as an assassination. It looks like it was very targeted. An SUV pulled out in front of him, and someone jumped out and shot him point blank. And then his body was taken to a hospital, where Mousavi visited it. And at the same time, Basiji forces surrounded the hospital. And by midnight, it’s reported that the body disappeared. So it’s becoming quite an intrigue. But one analysis is that he was assassinated as a warning to Mousavi himself. And it also shows that the political infighting is becoming very personal within the regime.

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