Monday, February 21, 2011

Reports cite at least one dead protester on February 20

At least one protester was killed during nationwide demonstrations on February 20 in Iran, according to opposition sources.

Hamed Nour-Mohammadi, a second-year molecular biology student at Shiraz University (I had initially written that he was a fourth-year biology student), was thrown off Namazi Bridge in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, eyewitnesses said.

View Namazi Bridge, Shiraz, Iran - 20 February 2011 in a larger map

Nour-Mohammadi resided at the Dastgheib university dormitory and was a native of Khorramabad, Lorestan province, wrote the opposition Jaras web site (NB He may have been from the town of Alashter, see below). His family is under intense pressure from security authorities to remain silent.

Sources in Iran reported that another protester was shot to death in Tehran's Haft Tir Square, but no details have been forthcoming.

Yesterday's marches were called to commemorate the deaths of two demonstrators, Mohammad Mokhtari and Saneh Jaleh, on February 14.


The semi-official Fars News, close to the IRGC, reported that Nour-Mohammadi was not a protester and that he had died as a result of being run over by a car in a banal road accident.

I came across the following comment on Radio Farda's web site (I've translated it from the original Farsi):
I am a friend of Hamed and come from the same town
Hamed is from Alashtar (NB also in Lorestan province), not Khorramabad
As I'm writing this, I can't even see the computer screen through my tears
My hand is trembling
You mean Hamed?
They killed our Hamed
Hamed I salute you
I salute your sense of honor
Hamed was a true Green
a true patriot
he loved the sunset over Persepolis
That's why he chose Shiraz University (NB Shiraz is close to the ancient Persian capital of Persepolis)
My Hamed, your friends and I will continue on your path
I can't believe it
Just a week ago you said, I'm off to Shiraz, let me take a photo of you.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pro-regime twitter accounts try to spread disinformation, fear, or calls for violence

Pro-regime Twitter accounts have intensified their activity on February 20 (Esfand 1 in Iranian calendar), a day of protests called by the opposition. The following screen capture shows some of the culprits tweeting the same messages at the same time (From FormoUSAvi to Daghkon). Some of the messages aim to create fear ('Motorcyclists are jotting down our car registration number...) and spread disinformation ('URGENT/ Mousavi arrested + photo'). Others are incitements to violence ('Esfand 1 - a day to demand blood')...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Regime becomes more tech savvy... sort of

Following the announcement by the Islamic Republic's security forces that a cyber-police squad had been formed, it was interesting to note the recent creation of a dozen pro-regime Twitter accounts.

They're a bit far from properly impersonating independent and grass-roots accounts as the following screen capture shows: identical tweets lauding Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were posted by several different 'users' at exactly the same time.

Brick in the wall: Saneh Jaleh story continues

Yesterday I wrote an article describing the Iranian regime's desperate claims that Saneh Jaleh, a protester who was killed by security forces during demonstrations on February 14, was actually a Basij militia member and had been killed by opponents of the Islamic Republic.

Friends, classmates, and others have denounced what they consider the regime's cynical exploitation of the slain protester. They have posted documents, photos, and now a video clip to show who Jaleh really was: a Green dramatic arts student, interested in writing, who had participated in past protests against the government.

Here is the student film featuring Saneh Jaleh as an actor in some of the opening scenes. The film was apparently banned at the Arts University, which is also shown at the start of the video:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bodysnatchers: Iran regime exploits protester that it killed

I originally wrote this piece for Tehran Bureau which posted it on February 15.

A day after a university student was shot to death during anti-regime protests in Tehran, a battle is waging for his soul.

Saneh Jaleh, 26, was killed on Jamalzadeh Street, north of Azadi Street which was the main fulcrum of demonstrations on February 14.

News outlets close to the government now claim that he was a supporter of the regime and that he was shot by agents provocateurs controlled by various opposition groups. The regime announced it would organize a funeral procession for Jaleh, from the Arts University of Tehran, where he studied theater, to Tehran University at 9:30 AM, Wednesday morning.

Opposition forces, with Jaleh's friends and classmates at the forefront, are leading a counter-offensive to prevent what they see as the cynical exploitation of the slain protester. They have called on all those who oppose the appropriation of Jaleh by the government to convene at the Arts University near Vali Asr crossroads half an hour earlier.

'He was definitely not a Basij member,' said Hatef Soltani, one of Jaleh's friends and former fellow students who accepted to speak on the record by telephone, referring to the pro-regime militia which has employed violence to subdue previous rallies. 'He participated in past demonstrations, particularly on Ashura,' added Soltani. 'He managed to escape harm that day, but this time...'

Until yesterday, the last major protest in Iran took place on Ashura (the commemoration of Imam Hossein's martyrdom), 27 December 2009.

Asked why he was ready to divulge his own name and possibly endanger himself, Soltani simply said, 'Well he was also a human being who is no longer with us, come what may.'

The barrage of what appears to be a well-orchestrated disinformation operation is reminiscent of the regime's attempts to blame anyone but its security forces for the death of Neda Agha Soltan during the unrest of 2009. In June of that year, state media and semi-official news outlets like Fars made unsubstantiated accusations against a broad group of likely culprits that included the CIA, the Mujaheddin Khalgh Organization, the Greens themselves and BBC correspondent Jon Leyne. The regime also widely distributed an edited interview showing Agha Soltan's father saying that his daughter was not a member of the Green movement.

The photo of Saneh Jaleh used by official and semi-official outlets close to the government -- stern and glum with a short beard -- does not quite correspond to the rakish young man with a mischievous glint in his eyes that appears in numerous candid shots that his friends have distributed. 

Similarly, Jaleh's background does not quite mesh with that of a Basij member or government supporter. He was in his third year of studies in the field of dramatic arts at the faculty of cinema and theater at Tehran's Arts University. He was also interested in writing fiction, according to Soltani, and published at least one short story entitled 'The Bus' in Azma magazine, which has been accused in some quarters of being a part of the 'soft war' against the Islamic Republic. He was a native of Kurdistan province and was a Sunni. 'I think he was from the town of Bijar or Paveh,' said Soltani. 'In any case, he spoke both Turkish and Kurdish.'

'He was not what you would call an active militant in politics (mobarezeh siassi), but you have to be somehow political when you engage in protests' said former fellow theater student Soltani. Jaleh's opinions led him to accompany his university's student association on a visit to the late dissident Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who spent a good portion of the past 20 years under house arrest in Ghom.
The progression of the official presentation of Jaleh from devout student to regime sympathizer to full-fledged Basij militia member has left a trail on cyberspace, implicating news agencies, the head of the Arts University of Tehran, and the Basijeh Daneshjouyi (Student Basij organization).

The Arts University's public relations office released a cautious statement on Jaleh's death early in the day, saying that it was with a 'heart filled with sorrow and pain' that it had to announce 'the martyrdom of Saneh Jaleh, one of the dear and devout children of this university.' The statement went on to say, 'We will not rest until the agents and instigators of this savage act are identified.' 

Towards noon, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) spoke of Jaleh as a 'martyr who was killed yesterday during the riots of the seditionists,' a catchphrase for those who oppose the regime. Although Hadi Ghassemi, in charge of public relations for the Student Basij, was quoted in IRNA's report, he never said that Jaleh was a Basij member. IRNA added, 'Jaleh was a guardian of the Qoran and a religious person and was considered a supporter of the regime.' The article planted the first seeds of the scenario that the regime would be promoting: 'This young man was killed with a bullet fired from a small arm.' In the case of Neda, the regime's news agencies insisted that the bullet which killed the young woman came from a weapon which is not used by the Islamic Republic's security forces.

Fars News, close to the IRGC, also quoted Hadi Ghassemi around noon, but this time the Student Basij spokesperson had more to say. Jaleh had been 'the target of a direct shot from the Monafeghin (hypocrites) terrorist groupuscule,' said Ghassemi, using the regime's term for the MKO.

By early afternoon, the president of the Arts University, Saeed Kashn Fallah, was quoted by Tabnak news, close to former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai, and Fars News as saying that 'Jaleh was a third-year student of theater at the Arts University, who was killed by terrorist agents of the Monafeghin during the illegal gatherings in Tehran yesterday.' He added, 'Jaleh was a Basiji student and guardian of the Qoran at the Arts University.' Tabnak concluded the piece by writing, 'The Monafeghin terrorist groupuscule also targeted four other fellow citizens with direct gunshots. They are being treated in hospitals.'

By this point in the day, contrary voices were being raised to denounce the regime's campaign to exploit Jaleh and to invite the people to pre-empt the official funeral service on Wednesday morning. 'The height of shamelessness,' one Internet user wrote on the Balatarin news aggregator. 'Our next meeting... tomorrow to bury Green martyr Saneh Jaleh,' wrote blogger Arezooabedini. It was time for the official news outlets to go to the next level.

Fars News, which has been known to make creative use of Photoshop, published what it purported to be Saneh Jaleh's Basij membership card at 2 PM. But some inconsistencies in the document were quickly pointed out by Internet users. Blogger Irandust2000 wrote that the stamp on the photo bore the name of the town of Paveh, but that the back of the card had a postal code for Tehran. Irandust2000 said that the postal codes on the back of Basij cards correspond to the city where they are issued and that this discrepancy indicated that the individuals who had prepared the document had not waited for a proper Basij card from Paveh to be sent to Tehran. Also, the alleged card which had been supposedly issued 3 years ago had a higher serial number than those issued 2 years ago. Bloggers posted scanned images of genuine Basij cards from two years ago to prove their point.

Soltani and other friends of Jaleh have set up a Facebook group called 'Green martyr Saneh Jaleh' to protect the memory of their slain comrade and to provoke a popular backlash.

Though the most immediate task of the group is to invite people to convene at the Arts University funeral service tomorrow to prevent the regime from burying Jaleh as a Basiji, one member posted another request.

'I read the words of [Arts University president] Saeed Kashn Fallah,' he wrote. 'Friends of the university community! Let us begin housecleaning from the university and [...] demand the removal of this un-chivalrous character (najavanmard). Let us take this step in our own home, until we take the next ones.'

Monday, February 14, 2011

25 Bahman scrapbook

The opposition has announced its intention to demonstrate on 14 February 2011 (25 Bahman in the Iranian calendar). I'll be regularly updating this scrapbook to provide an overview of events and to give an idea of the mood in the country today. Please be advised that the times quoted reflect the moment that I became aware of an event or wrote it down, not necessarily the hour at which it occurred. I have tried to only post information and video clips which are credible. Although there is now a great volume of footage and photos showing extensive protests around Tehran (and other cities and towns in Iran), I have only posted those that appeared to be from today with a very high degree of certainty. One of the slogans of the day was 'Mubarak, Ben Ali, Nobateh Seyed Ali' (...Seyed Ali's turn) referring to the former presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, and Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei.

Other outlets such as Enduring America and Tehran Bureau will post what I expect to be more detailed live blogs in English.

For more videos, here are a few very interesting YouTube channels:  Unity4Iran, Freedom Messenger, Only Mehdi, Iran Students Committee...You can also check out more videos that I selected through my Twitter feed.

Purported sites of protests

View Alleged sites of protests - 25 Bahman in a larger map

3:20 AM Tehran time - 11:50 PM GMT
I cannot remember demonstrators continuing their street protest into the late hours during previous rallies (perhaps an astute reader will correct me on this), but for whatever reason (calls to learn from the Egyptians and not relinquish the streets to security forces?), Iranians continued their protests as night fell. Here are a few videos purportedly from this evening.

Demonstrators chant 'Independence, freedom, an Iranian Republic' -- a deliberate twist on the revolutionary slogan which ended with 'Islamic Republic' -- as a bonfire burns under a pedestrian bridge.

Cars honk in support as protesters chant around a trash can that has been set on fire:

Traffic at a standstill, while demonstrators shout 'Death to Khamenei' and 'I will kill the one who killed my brother.'

3:15 AM Tehran time - 11:45 PM GMT
Protesters shout 'Mubarak, Ben Ali, Nobateh Seyed Ali!' on Azerbaijan Street, south of Azadi Street:

3:00 AM Tehran time - 11:30 PM GMT
Seyed Mohamad Marandi, professor at Tehran's University's Institute for North American and European Studies, was at it again. Famously referred to by Fareed Zakaria as a 'mouthpiece for a dying, repressive regime' during a tense interview on CNN's GPS and grilled on Al Jazeera for callously supporting the execution of Arash Rahmanipour, 19, and Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani, 38 (the two men were tried for waging war against God during the regime's infamous show trials), Marandi was in the warmer embrace of Russia Today tv channel this evening. He told the station's journalist that 'the Islamic Republic of Iran is highly popular' and that the protesters today were 'no more than a few hundred':

11:10 PM Tehran time - 7:40 PM GMT
Compelling evidence that the protests continued into the night (and may still be going on, according to some reports). One of the ways to confirm the date of a video is to listen to the slogans being chanted. This clip features today's favorite phrase: 'Mubarak, Ben Ali, Nobateh Seyed Ali!' (...Seyed Ali [Khamenei's] turn). One protester screams out, 'This is the rage of the people!' This looks like it was filmed in one of the city's main thoroughfares, Azadi Street:

11:00 PM Tehran time - 7:30 PM GMT
Video shows a regime supporter in unfamiliar territory as he tries to boss protesters around and gets a beating for his efforts. This clip is the prelude to another one below (where the poster bearing photos of Khomeini and Khamenei is burned):

10:45 PM Tehran time - 7:15 PM GMT
'Seyed Ali's turn,' mutters the cameraman, referring to Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei. It seemed this was the theme for much of the day. 'It looks like a war zone,' the cameraman says as he looks upon streets strewn with burning debris:

9:10 PM Tehran time - 5:40 PM GMT
It is quite likely that this video was shot today as the protesters reject the Islamic Republic's allies in the region and underline their kinship with the people of Tunisia and Egypt: 'Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon! Tunisia, Egypt, and Iran!'

9:00 PM Tehran time - 5:30 PM GMT
Another video, purportedly from today, showing protesters tearing down a poster of Khamenei. The 'Mubarak, Ben Ali, Seyed Ali [Khamenei's] turn' chant can be heard in the background:

8:30 PM Tehran time - 5:00 PM GMT
Video showing protesters burning Khamenei's picture in the middle of the street. It is highly likely that this clip was filmed today as the poster is promoting 'Neshasteh Basirat,' loosely translated as 'enlightenment gathering.' A series of these types of ideological/propaganda conferences are organized during the ten days of official celebrations which lead up to the anniversary of the 1979 revolution on February 11. We can also hear the crowd chanting 'Mobarak, Ben Ali, Seyed Ali [Khamenei's] turn.' As explained below, the chants may have been added to an old video, but this does not appear to be the case:

8:10 PM Tehran time - 4:40 PM GMT
Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's web site has issued a photo showing a police van blocking his alley to prevent him from leaving. The site reports that Mousavi's bodyguards were told he could not leave. Mousavi then tried to obtain his car keys in order to drive to the protests, but was rebuffed. He and his wife, Zahra rahnavard, then decided to leave on foot, at which point the police van was driven into the alley to seal off the exit:

7:30 PM Tehran time - 4:00 PM GMT
I can conclusively identify where this next video, showing protesters chanting and burning garbage cans, was filmed. Towards the end we get a glimpse of Shahriar Hospital's sign.

This clinic is situated at the corner of Karun and Azarbaijan streets, about 2 kilometers northwest of Khamenei's offices, and about 2 kilometers east of Azadi Square:

View Untitled in a larger map

Here's the video:

7:15 PM Tehran time - 3:45 PM GMT
Video purportedly showing protesters chanting 'Political prisoners must be freed' near Enghelab today. They are dispersed with tear gas:

6:25 PM Tehran time - 2:55 PM GMT
Another video, purportedly from Enghelab Street today ('Death to the dictator!'):

6:20 PM Tehran time - 2:50 PM GMT
Photos of the heavy security presence in Tehran today:

5:55 PM Tehran time - 2:25 PM GMT
An amazing video. If authentic, it shows the first massive protest in Tehran in over a year. The only thing that makes me consider that it is possibly credible is the chant that can be heard: 'Mobarak, Ben Ali, nobateh Seyed Ali!' ([Hosni] Mobarak, [Zeinolabeddine] Ben Ali, Seyed Ali [Khamenei's] turn!) But was the chant added to an old video? I'm afraid I can't say. Update: This clip does not feature today's protests and was deliberately doctored with the sounds of today's chants. I'm keeping it as a reminder that rumor and falsehood can be the by-products of a closed society like the Islamic Republic:

5:50 PM Tehran time - 2:20 PM GMT
Video purportedly of Sharif University protest today:

5:35 PM Tehran time - 2:05 PM GMT
Cries of 'death to the dictator!' can be heard over the mobile phone of an eyewitness in a Tehran street. Another slogan I personally heard: 'Mobarak, Ben Ali. Nobateh Seyed Ali' (Mobarak, Ben Ali, now Seyed Ali [Khamenei's] turn.) I also heard: 'Nezami joda sho, ba mellat hamseda sho.' (Military separate [from the regime], join the people's voice).

Another opposition news outlet hacked? Daneshjoo News appears to be down.

5:30 PM Tehran time - 2:00 PM GMT
Portions of the police radio recording discussed previously have been posted on the Net:

5:20 PM Tehran time - 1:50 PM GMT
Reports of large numbers of people coming out into the streets, but scattered for now. More reports of burning garbage cans from the Ferdowsi square area. Many Basijis around Enghelab Square. Roads have been closed off by security forces, but passengers are getting out of their cars and walking towards squares and roads around the Imam Hossein-Azadi axis.

5:05 PM Tehran time - 1:35 PM GMT
More reports of protests and clashes in Shiraz.

Reports of demonstration in Enghelab Square.

Mobile telephone service has been cut in parts of Tehran, according to sources in the city. There are increasing reports of clashes and protests around the city, though no convincing videos have been posted yet. ePersian radio broadcast what was purported to be Tehran police radio dispatcher: '5,000 to 6,000 protesters going from Vali Asr towards Enghelab... They're chanting pretty sharp slogans.'

5:00 PM Tehran time - 1:30 PM GMT
Video purportedly showing large number of Basij security forces on motorcycles driving towards sensitive spots in Tehran:

4:15 PM Tehran time - 12:45 PM GMT
ePersian radio's reporter on the ground reports: Tear gas fired, protesters have lit garbage cans on fire, motorcycle-riding security forces, protesters beaten between Enghelab and Azadi squares.

Protesters near Mollah Sadra and in Shiraz University.

3:55 PM Tehran time - 12:25 PM GMT
Hacker vs. Hacker
The opposition Saham News web site (Karroubi's outlet) was hacked, but is back online (see screen capture of Saham News homepage minutes before coming back online). The new cyber-police force in action?
Update: I'm told the site is offline again.

3:30 PM Tehran time - 12:00 PM GMT
Video, purportedly from today, showing a group of motorcycle-riding security forces, possibly Basij:

3:15 PM Tehran time - 11:45 AM GMT
Some sources claim a sit-in is being organized in Imam Hossein square.

3:00 PM Tehran time - 11:30 AM GMT
Contradictory reports about the Interior Ministry having issued a permit for today's protest. Some serious outlets like BBC Persian have reported that the Interior Ministry has finally issued such a permit (some sources say this was done after the intercession of Turkey's President Gul who is visiting Iran today). The news is serious enough for IRNA to have reacted immediately with a denial from Deputy Interior Minister Mahmoud Abbaszadeh Meshkini, who accused the BBC of making trouble.
Update: Foreign Ministry source claims permit was issued to appease Turkish President Gul, but some security outlets are denying this in order to dissuade people from demonstrating, a caller tells ePersian radio.

2:40 PM Tehran time - 11:10 AM GMT
Radio watch

ePersian radio: The usual coterie of regime supporters are phoning the call-in program to insult host Saeed Ghaem Maghami. Ghaem Maghami responds by saying to one of them, 'You may hate me, but I love you, sister, and I'll definitely see you in Tehran.' Callers report disturbances in Naziabad district, Azadi Square, and Sadeghiyeh.

Radio Farda: Caller says he is a veteran and brother of a martyr of the Iran-Iraq War. Says he will be present on Azadi Street today. Mir Hossein Mousavi senior adviser Ardeshir Amir Arjmand: 'Today's peaceful protest will be a test for Iran's armed and security forces.'

2:30 PM Tehran time - 11:00 AM GMT
Initial videos appearing on the Internet and purporting to be from today do not appear authentic. Weather in Tehran is brisk today, but protesters in this clip are not dressed warmly:

2:15 PM Tehran time - 10:45 AM GMT
I tweeted these updates earlier:

- Etemad Melli Party spokesman (Mehdi Karroubi's party) Esmail Gerami Moghaddam declared, 'According to the constitution, the February 14 demonstration does not require a permit from the Interior Ministry.'

- The state TV web site is still down, apparently the victim of a denial of service attack. The hacker group Anonymous had announced it would wage such attacks in a video released late last week. 

- In an attempt to keep people from demonstrating, the government has told civil servants that they can benefit from overtime by staying at their desks until 6PM today.

2:00 PM Tehran time - 10:30 AM GMT
Reports of people massing in Tehran's Sadeghiyeh district, north of Azadi Square.

View Sadeghiyeh, Tehran - 14 February 2011 in a larger map

Earlier today (8:30AM Tehran time), a protester climbed a crane near Chahar Raheh Ghasr, hoisted flags, and held up photos of 'martyrs.' He/she threatened to jump off if security forces attempted to apprehend him/her.