The last time Tehran streets witnessed protests was mid-February but the heavy presence of security forces has remained.
At around 1pm on Thursday 24 February, people walking and riding on Tehran streets to their workplaces or homes saw more and more police forces and so-called plainclothes men (Basiji militia) gathering in main squares and junctions. (Watch video footage here.) Everybody was shocked by the police presence, asking "What has happened? What’s going on?" Rumours began to circulate among them: "They may want to arrest opposition leaders." "They may have arrested them." As time passed, more and more forces were deployed on the streets.
Riot police and Basiji militia riding on motorbikes in groups of 20 to 30 maneuvered around the streets. In some main squares, units of Special Forces with dark uniforms and covered heads were deployed as well. The streets stayed calm but the heavy security atmosphere was strengthened.
Rumours about the possibility of the opposition leaders being arrested circulate just days after their restricted living conditions deteriorated. Early on 14 February when the protests began, former prime minster Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his wife were placed under house arrest in order to prevent them attending the rally. Nearly a week before that, Mehdi Karroubi, a former parliament speaker and a senior cleric, had also been put under house arrest. His family, save for his wife, was banned from entering the building.
The house arrest conditions for the opposition leaders got tougher a couple of days after the rally, as the hardliner and powerful cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said they must be "cut off" from the world. "The connection of the heads of sedition with the public must be cut," Jannati told people attending Friday prayers. "The doors of their houses must be shut. Their interaction with the outside world must be limited. Their telephone and internet must be cut. They must be imprisoned in their own houses."
Soon members of Mousavi’s protection team were replaced by a new team organised by security forces. His website, kaleme.com, published footage showing an iron gate that had been built across the alley leading to his residence.
Karroubi’s house was raided by a group of pro-government hardliners. They threw a sound grenade into his building and broke windows while chanting slogans against him. They also read aloud a statement and announced that they were waiting for a final command from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, for the "beheading of Karroubi and his wife."
Two young people were shot dead in the protests on 14 February. Iran’s pro-government Fars news agency and state media claimed that one of the two, art student Sane Jaleh, 26, was a member of the Basij forces. Even though relatives and friends of Sane rejected the claim strongly, a funeral was held on 16 February in Tehran University by a huge number of government supporters, mostly Basijis and young clerics. They chanted slogans against opposition leaders, Mousavi and Karroubi, asking the authorities to "hang" them. Riot police clashed with students who wanted to attend the funeral.
The other dead student, 22-year-old Mohammad Mokhtari, was buried in Tehran by government supporters who chanted "Death to Mousavi, death to Karrubi." His family members were also present. Mohammad’s Facebook profile showed pictures linking him to the "Green Movement" and his Facebook posts before the rally showed he was one of supporters of Mousavi and Karroubi — and not of the government.
The sudden escalation in presence of security forces on the streets of Tehran suggests that authorities are trying to create an atmosphere of fear and control. Why? For starters, the protests are expanding to other large cities like Shiraz and Isfahan. It looks like more will happen in Iran in the coming days.
Like this article? Register as a New Matilda user here. It’s free! We’ll send you a bi-weekly email keeping you up to date with new stories on the site.
Want more independent media? New Matilda stays online thanks to reader donations. To become a financial supporter, click here.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.