But the regime struck back and silenced anyone who dared speak out. You'll hear from a witness to it all, Iranian-Canadian filmmaker and Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari, who was held by the Revolutionary Guard for 118 days.
When he was released, they warned him never to talk about his imprisonment or else. But last week he spoke to spoke to "60 Minutes" correspondent Bob Simon anyway, and gave us a rare insight into what's going on in Iran today.
His ordeal is the cover story of Newsweek, which comes out Monday, Nov. 23.
Newsweek: Four Months Inside an Iranian Prison
Web Extra: "Mr. Hillary Clinton"
Web Extra: "A Peaceful Terrorist"
Peaceful demonstrations turned into riots when paramilitary members of the Revolutionary Guard, called the Basij, came on motorcycles, wielding rifles and batons. They laid into the crowd.
Journalists were banned from being anywhere near the demonstrations, so people stole images with cell phones and beamed them to the rest of the world. It was to become the "YouTube revolution."
"The violence. You'd never seen anything like that?" Simon asked Bahari.
"Never," he replied. "I always had a very scary image of the Revolutionary Guards in my head but I didn't know how far they could go."
Bahari took the risk of shooting some pictures, which more than anything else would later get him into trouble with the regime. He filmed a group of demonstrators attacking a base of the Basij, that paramilitary branch of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard.
The protestors were throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. "Basically they want to take over the Basij base," Bahari explained.
"This isn't a demonstration. It's a riot," Simon remarked, looking at video of the crowds. "And the demonstrators just keep on going."
"That's it," Bahari said.
According to Bahari the Basij, armed with rifles, started firing, shooting down a man who had climbed on a fence.
The man was killed. In all, Bahari said five people were killed during this uprising at the base.
Days later, he watched as Iran's most powerful man, Ayatollah Khamenei, accused the foreign media of fomenting the unrest. The supreme leader warned the demonstrators that if they continued protesting they would be crushed.
Khamenei delivered the warning during a national broadcast of his Friday sermon.
Bahari had no idea that he too would be vulnerable. He had been an accredited journalist in Iran for 12 years and was an internationally acclaimed filmmaker. His reputation: telling both sides of the story.
"They certainly knew that you were a fair journalist writing fair and balanced reports," Simon remarked.
"Yes, but they don't like fairness," Bahari said. "You have to be either with them or against them. You cannot see shades of gray. You have to see the world in black and white."
Early one morning, two days after Khamenei's speech, four agents of the Revolutionary Guard came knocking on the door of his Tehran apartment.
"I kind of smelled them before I could see them. There were four of them. And all of a sudden I was smelling sweat and rose water. Because many Iranian officials, they wear rose water 'cause they don't take shower that much," Bahari said.