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IranWatch: June 24

For highlights of previous coverage, see IranWatch: June 23 | June 22 | June 21 | June 20 | June 19 | June 18 | June 17

Updated 9:10 p.m. Eastern: This Man Will Be In Charge Of Prosecuting Demonstrators

From the Times of London, referring to Saaed Mortazavi: "The Iranian regime has appointed one of its most feared prosecutors to interrogate reformists arrested during demonstrations, prompting fears of a brutal crackdown against dissent.

Updated 9:00 p.m. Eastern: Obama, Freedom Of Expression, Internet Video, And Moral Relativism

Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald is taking a break from his provocative writings on torture, wiretapping, and why the Obama administration has continued some of the Bush administration's policies that Democrats once claimed to abhor.

This time, Greenwald is raising questions about the so-called "Neda video." He wonders why President Obama can laud "freedom of expression" and video when it exposes abuse by the Iraqi authorities -- but won't release photos that may show abuse by U.S. authorities:

How is it possible for Obama to pay dramatic tribute to the "heartbreaking" impact of that Neda video in bringing to light the injustices of the Iranian Government's conduct while simultaneously suppressing images that do the same with regard to our own Government's conduct?

Updated 8:45 p.m. Eastern: Making an "Example" Out Of Protesters

From the Financial Times, we have the story of an 18-year old Iranian youth called Hadi, who left to head to the streets with his friends on June 15. He called his parents the next day to say he was in prison. He's still there.

The newspaper says the authorities are trying to make an example out of protesters:

Since the start of Iran's presidential crisis, the regime has resorted to mass arrests, locking up politicians from the reformist camp and young Iranians who were protesting at what they believe was an election stolen from reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi. Some families have been turning up every day in front of Tehran's Revolutionary Court, which deals with security charges, seeking information about their relatives...

Mohammad Ali-Abtahi, a former vice-president under the Mohammad Khatami presidency, was arrested at 5:30am on June 16 by four men in plain clothes who rang the bell at his home and demanded to see him, according to a family member. The men searched his apartment, taking his laptop, mobile phone, briefcase and personal notes, in two big bags. "It was the last time we heard from him," says the family member...

While the opposition blames security forces for beating and shooting protesters, the government insists terrorists infiltrated the crowds. Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, the intelligence minister, on Wednesday said that detained protesters fell into two groups. Those who had been manipulated into taking part in protests would be released, he said. "But those members of anti-revolutionary and terrorist groups and [those who] infiltrated among the people ... would be introduced to the judiciary and charged."

Updated 8:31 p.m. Eastern: American Tourists, Be Wary Of What You Do Online

And now comes word that an American, Michelle May, was detained briefly and released in Iran.

Here's the story: May lives in San Francisco and (perhaps because of an Irish grandparent) also holds Irish citizenship too. She had traveled to Iran twice before. After the election results were in and the tumult was beginning, May booked a ticket to travel to Tehran on her Irish passport to experience the situation there firsthand as a kind of political tourist.

She told CNN (transcript) that: "I just felt felt a real need to be there with my friends I and wanted to be part of what could possibly be history. I just made arrangements kind of at the last minute." After she arrived, she went to an Internet cafe and found that Facebook, Gmail, Twitter and the BBC had been blocked -- but CNN.com would still load.

An article that May wrote for the independent news site TehranBureau.com said that after leaving the cafe, she hailed a cab and then was detained by Basiji paramilitary forces who had apparently watched what she was doing online. She wrote: "I tried to calm myself. I switched tactics. I told them the truth. I told them how much I loved Iran. I explained how horrible it was that my love affair with Iran was coming to such an abrupt end. I tried to negotiate. I begged Ali to take me to a regular police station, as opposed to a basij barracks."

A few hours later, she was released. "The man questioning me said it was best to leave the country as soon as possible due to 'sensitivities,'" May wrote. "I imagined he was embarrassed by what was happening. I left the next day as he advised, not relaxing until the plane actually lifted off the ground."

Updated 6:55 p.m. Eastern: Kianoosh Asa from Kermanshah

A reliable source passes this along, but we have not been able to verify this independently: "One of my friends in Iran University of science and technology dorms who dissapeared from saturday after election is killed, we were reported today by his family. He was a master student in Iran university of science and technology. his name was Kianoosh Asa from Kermanshah."

Updated 6:48 p.m. Eastern: "Bullets Versus Facebook, Power Versus Dignity"

Via Andrew Sullivan, a statement on Mousavi's Facebook page about the conflict in Baharestan Square:

Guns versus 'the greatness of God'; armed forces versus mobile phones, batons versus mourning, lies versus cameras, state-run television versus twitter, bullets versus Facebook, power versus dignity… who wins? جنگ اسلحه است و الله اکبر، جنگ مسلحان است و موبایل، جنگ باتوم است و بغض، جنگ دروغ است و دوربین، جنگ تلویزیون است و توییتر، جنگ فشنگ است و فیسبوک، جنگ قدرت است و

Updated 6:35 p.m. Eastern: "Called For A Return Of Long-Denied Civil Liberties"

A Time magazine article is making the rounds about over 100,000 protesters in the streets of Tehran. The catch is that it was written in September 1978, during the demonstrates that paralyzed the nation at the time, and which ultimately led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Today we call it the Iranian Revolution:

Day after day they marched, tens of thousands strong, defiant chanting demonstrators surging through the streets of Tehran, a capital unaccustomed to the shouts and echoes of dissent. The subject of their protest was the policies of Iran's supreme ruler... Some carried signs demanding his ouster. Others called for a return of long denied civil and political liberties and the enforcement of Islamic laws... The crowd, at times numbering more than 100,000, was a colorful, sometimes incongruous cross section of Iranian society: dissident students in jeans; women shrouded in the black chador, the traditional head-to-foot veil; peasants and merchants; and most important the bearded, black-robed Muslim mullahs, the religious leaders of the Shi'ite branch of Islam, which commands the allegiance of 93% of Iran's 34.4 million people.

Updated 5:57 p.m. Eastern: Is "Neda" Photo Incorrect?

We're now seeing some of the downsides of the torrent of unverified data about Iran flowing through social networks, Twitter, and blogs.

A Salon.com blog claims that the photograph of an Iranian girl named Neda who was captured on video apparently dying of a gunshot wound was not accurate. Specifically, it says that another person named Neda Soltani had her photograph used instead. Here's the blog post that seems to be the first to document the problem.

It seems silly to be saying this in 2009, but remember: Just because it's on the Internet doesn't mean it's true. (I wouldn't be surprised to see state security forces take advantage of this lack-of-verification by manufacturing and distributing YouTube videos of green-clad "protesters" looting stores -- or perhaps even kicking babies and shooting innocent women. If so little can be verified, who's to say it isn't true?)

Updated 5:03 p.m. Eastern: Iranian State TV Downplays Violence At Today's Rally

A TV channel supported by the Iranian government called Press TV, which broadcasts in English, is downplaying reports of violence. Its article indicates today's demonstration was an "illegal rally" outside Parliament and says:

Protesters, who had gathered in small groups at a nearby subway station in Baharestan Square, were dispersed by security forces. Another group of about fifty people also converged on another square to the north of the neighborhood. A heavy presence of the police prevented violence in the area. Traffic was light and the police controlled all the routes to and from the areas surrounding the parliament.

Updated 4:55 p.m. Eastern: More On Bridge "Bloodbath" in Tehran

We've posted a story with a few more details about what we reported earlier. As far as we've been able to tell, a silent gathering at the parliament building took a violent turn when more than 1,000 police and Basij militia arrived to disperse the crowd.

Updated 3:01 p.m. Eastern: Neda's Family Forced Out Of Home

(AP Photo)
The Guardian is reporting that Iranian authorities have forced Neda Agha Soltan's family out of their Tehran home.

Video of Soltan's shooting death last week has become the hallmark of Iran's political unrest and a black eye for Iran's government.

Now neighbors are reporting that her family has been ousted from their four-floor apartment building in Eastern Tehran. This comes after authorities refused to give hand Soltan's body over to her family, and buried her without the family's knowledge, neighbors said.

The government has also reportedly banned mourning ceremonies in her honor.

Amid the outrage over her death, Iranian authorities have looked to redirect the blame. Earlier this week, the government alleged protesters were responsible for her death. And a pro-government newspaper accused a BBC correspondent of orchestrating the shooting so he could make a documentary, the Guardian reports.

Updated 2:40 p.m. Eastern: Tear Gas Attack Caught On Tape

This video posted on YouTube purportedly shows Iranian security using tear gas against demonstrators today.

Updated 1:25 p.m. Eastern: Tehran "Blood Bath"

CBSNews.com's source in Tehran confirmed the reports of violence against demonstrators today.

"It turned into a blood bath ... they threw some people off the bridges ... after the Basijis came, they began to use tear gas, sticks and shooting."

Updated 1:11 p.m. Eastern: Hysterical Witness Describes Violence

YouTube posted this video of a CNN phone interview with a witness to today's violence.

The woman hysterically describes security forces throwing people off a pedestrian bridge and beating protesters.

"They beat a woman so savagely that she was drenched in blood," she said.

The woman also said she saw "security forces shooting on people."

Updated 1:03 p.m. Eastern: Protesting Mullahs And The Cost Of Dying

Amid today's hectic reports of renewed violence, there are also a couple of stories from yesterday worth pointing out.

CNN had this story about Iranian clerics caught on camera attending opposition rallies in defiance of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The presence of mullahs at protests could indicate a deepening division among Iran's religious leaders.

And the Wall Street Journal reports on how families of killed protesters cope with their deaths. The most stunning bit of info – Iranian authorities are apparently charging families $3,000 for the cost of the bullet before turning the bodies over.

Updated 12:49 p.m. Eastern: "Death To Dictator"

This YouTube video reportedly shows crowd from today's protest shouting "Death to Dictator." As always, video from independent sites like this can't be confirmed.

Updated 12:28 p.m. Eastern: Woman To Police: "Beat Me!"

This video posted on YouTube today shows Iranian police beating people in the street. The woman filming is reportedly shouting "Beat Me!" to the police.

Updated 12:21 p.m. Eastern: Source Confirms Demonstration

This report came in from a CBSNews.com source inside Tehran:

"I just came back home from the demonstration (near the Majlis.) Mousavi had canceled the demonstration around 2 p.m. but people still came. When I got there around 4 p.m., there were around 2,500 people standing around. Everyone was silent.

After an hour, there were around 5,000 people, max. After that, the police started to scatter people. Around 1,000 police and Basiji arrived as backup. A little while later, there were buses full of Basijis. There were a lot, I did not get a chance to count the buses, as I found out they were going to have their own demonstration themselves, right there.

People were scattered by the police and they made room for the Basijis.

I heard a girl was shot and taken to hospital before I arrived. But I can't confirm that."

Updated 12:16 p.m. Eastern: Tehran Mayor Wants Protests Legalized

Tehran's mayor is calling for Iranian authorities to legalize peaceful opposition protests, according to a report on Iran's PressTV.

In an interview on Iranian TV, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said easing restrictions on rallies would prevent "saboteurs who draw weapons and kill people."

Updated 12:02 p.m. Eastern: Human Rights Lawyer: I'll Represent Neda's Family

Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi told Al Jazeera Wednesday that she's willing to represent the family of Neda Soltano after the 26-year-old's now famous shooting death at an opposition demonstration.

"I am personally prepared to legally represent her family against the people who ordered the shooting and those who fired at her," Ebadi told the news agency.

Ebadi also called for the release of all those arrested for protesting.

"According to the constitution of the Islamice republic, peaceful rallying and demonstrations are allowed and do not need permission from any authorities," she said.

Updated 11:53 a.m. Eastern: More Video

Here's some more video posted to YouTube today. Again, no confirmation on date/location of the footage.

Updated 11:15 a.m. Eastern: Report: U.S. Reached Out To Ayatollah Before Election

According to a Washington Times report, the U.S. made overtures to Iran's supreme leader prior to the election upheaval in hopes of improving relations between the two nations.

The White House sent Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a letter through the Swiss Embassy in early May that laid out hopes for "cooperation in regional and bilateral relations," an Iranian familiar with the communication told the Times.

During last Friday's prayers, Khamenei blasted the U.S. for stoking Iran's internal divisions and made a vague remark about receiving communication from America.

Updated 11:05 a.m. Eastern: Video Reportedly Shows Aftermath Of Sniper Attack

This video posted on YouTube claims to show the result of Iranian sniper fire into crowds of demonstrators today. Important to note – the video is graphic and the date/location of the footage can't be confirmed.

One of the most interesting things, besides the violence, is the crowd reaction – dozens of onlookers pulling out cameras to document the carnage.

Updated 10:55 a.m. Eastern: Doc In Neda Video Identified

Via the Guardian's live blog of the Iran protests, Brazilian author Paolo Coehlo released a set of emails traded with the doctor seen at the side of slain 26-year-old Neda Soltan. Coehlo contacted his friend, identified in the emails as Arash, after recognizing him in the video.

The exchanges are a compelling example of the fears of exposure to Iran's government. Initially asked to keep his identity secret, Coehlo wrote his friend saying he may expose him "in order to protect you - visibility is the only protection at this point."

Arash fled the country and is now in London, according to the correspondence.

Updated 10:38 a.m. Eastern: Rumors Of Violence Continue To Fly

More reports are streaming in of violence at Wednesday's protest outside Iran's Parliament.

Dubai-based Al Arabiya noted unconfirmed reports that two Iranians had been wounded by police gunfire near the parliament building.

And the Twittersphere is furiously buzzing about violence, though again, those reports can't be confirmed.

Updated 9:57 a.m. Eastern: Reports Of Violence At Iranian Parliament

Iranian authorities are attacking protesters trying to congregate in front of the Majlis, the name of the Iranian Parliament, according to a report on Radio Farda. Radio Farda is a Persian language station associated with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

There are also reports via Twitter that a young woman was shot during the latest clashes, though that's impossible to confirm at this point.

Updated 9:44 a.m. Eastern: Mousavi's Wife Decries "Martial Law"

Zahra Rahnavard, wife of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, said on his Web site that the Iranian government's crackdown on protesters was "as if martial law has been imposed in the streets."

She said the demonstrators had a constitutional right to protests and called for the release of all activists and other arrested at protests.

Updated 8:56 a.m. Eastern: Reported Clashes Near Parliament

There are unconfirmed reports on Twitter that police are clashing with protesters at Tehran's Baharestan Square, directly in front of the parliament building. One user of the social networking site said tear gas was being fired. Another said all cell-phone networks in central Tehran had been taken down. The reports could not be confirmed.

Click here for the story.

Updated 7:37 a.m. Eastern: Britons Arrested Amid Election Unrest

Iran's state-run radio news broadcaster has reported that four British nationals were among those detained in the regime's recent post-election crackdown.

"Iranian Intelligence Minister Mohsen Ezhe'i has revealed that a number of people holding British passports were arrested in the recent unrests," the radio reports said on Wednesday, without any further explanation.

The report also quoted Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsuli as saying that his ministry had not issued any permits rallies or demonstrations in the next few days. As noted below, there is increasing traffic on Twitter suggesting opposition supporters may gather at as many as five locations in Tehran today, in addition to other Iranian cities.

Updated 7:20 a.m. Eastern: Twitter Buzzing With Rumor Of Planned Protests

Twitter traffic is increasingly suggesting that opposition supporters will stage multiple rallies in Tehran today. Several users have said there will be silent gatherings in a square in front of the parliament and at least four other locations.

A message on a Facebook account associated with the opposition urged demonstrators to, "preserve your unity and avoid clashes with others and refrain from aggravating slogans."

All protests have been banned by the regime and a harsh security crackdown has led to a sharp decrease in the number of demonstrators seen on the streets in the past two days.

The regime has vowed to deal with any protesters who violate the ban in a manner that "teaches them a lesson".

Updated 6:33 a.m. Eastern: Karroubi: Ahmadinejad Supporters Are "Stone Age"

Opposition candidate Mahdi Karroubi has used some unusually harsh language to characterize supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Islamic extremists.

In a letter to the head of a state-controlled television network posted on Karroubi's Web site he says, "Ahmadinejad's supporters promote Taliban-Islam and stone age beliefs."

The remark is sure to enrage the millions of Iranians who still support the President. His base is largely considered to be among Iran's rural and working class population.

Karroubi also berates the government-controlled media in the letter, claiming "the coverage of the peoples' protests across Iran is astonishing and emphasizes that, over the last few days, Iranians have been protesting against the breach of their human rights and freedom."

Updated 6:15 a.m. Eastern: Khamenei To Lead Friday Prayers Again

According to the Web site of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he will again lead Friday prayers in Tehran this week. In his speech after the usually-solemn religious ceremony last week, Khamenei declared the disputed vote would almost certainly stand and sternly warned opposition leaders to end street protests or be held responsible for any "bloodshed and chaos" to come.

Updated 5:23 a.m. Eastern: Greek Reporter For Washington Times Arrested

From the Associated Press: Iran's state-run TV has confirmed the arrest of Iason Athanasiadis, a Greek national reporting for the Washington Times. It was the first known arrest of a journalist who did not hold Iranian citizenship, according to a human rights group in New York, which called it a significant escalation of the attempt to repress independent reporting by a government that shied away from arresting foreign journalists in recent years.

A number of journalists have been detained since the protests began, although there have been conflicting accounts. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders put the figure at 34. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 13 were in custody, including Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari.

Updated 4:31 a.m. Eastern: More Protests Planned

Several messages on Twitter have said the opposition movement is planning a peaceful demonstration in a square near Iran's parliament, or Majlis, this afternoon.

Lead opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi's Facebook page carries a message denying that he will attend the protest. There are rumors that Iranian authorities may be planning to arrest Mousavi.

A Mousavi ally, Mahdi Karroubi, called for a day of silent protests to mourn those killed in violent clashes with security forces since the election. It was not clear whether that demonstration was the same one due to take place on Wednesday, but messages on social networking sites have suggested another rally may be held on Thursday.

Meanwhile, a statement on the Web site of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, one of Iran's most senior clerics, called Wednesday for three days of national mourning for the dead.

"Resisting the people's demand is religiously prohibited," the statement said.

Updated 4:22 a.m. Eastern: Could Clerics Oust The Ayatollah?

There are reports that Iran's clerical establishment is weighing the option of replacing supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with a panel of religious officials over his contentious role in the election dispute.

Britain's International Business Times, citing Al Arabiya TV, says the country's powerful, 86-member Assembly of Experts — headed by former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — is split in its support for Khamenei, and his surrogate, current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The unconfirmed report suggest the Experts have met secretly in Iran's holy city of Qom to discuss a political compromise to the week-and-a-half old political unrest which followed the announcement of disputed presidential election results.

An option they are reportedly considering is a complete change in the structure of the 30-year-old Islamic Republic's government — replacing the supreme leader with a panel and forcing President Ahmadinejad out of power.

That would be a decidedly dramatic upheaval by the Assembly, and many observers see such a radical change in Iran's politics as unlikely — especially given the current regime's continued defiance in the face of street protests. A swift crackdown has led to a great reduction in the number of opposition protesters taking to the streets in recent days.

More likely to emerge from the clerics is some sort of compromise which would allow Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to remain in their current positions.

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