Iran’s opposition asks to mourn iconic victim
Iran’s opposition leader asked authorities Sunday for permission to hold a memorial service for victims of last month’s post-election unrest, including a young woman whose death was caught on video and became a symbol for protesters.
Iranian authorities have pressured the families of slain protesters not to mourn publicly out of fear the gatherings could spark the kind of demonstrations that followed the June 12 presidential vote, according to the opposition.
Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and fellow pro-reform presidential candidate, Mahdi Karroubi, sent a request to the Interior Ministry to hold a memorial service in Tehran’s Mosalla mosque Thursday to commemorate the end of the 40-day mourning cycle for at least 10 people killed on June 20, Mousavi’s top aide Ali Reza Beheshti told the Associated Press.
Hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters took to the streets following the election to protest hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed victory. Iranian security forces cracked down violently, and at least 20 protesters were killed during the unrest, according to police. Rights groups believe the number could be far greater.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say over all state matters, has demanded the opposition drop its claims that the election was marred by massive vote fraud. But Mousavi and his supporters have kept up the pressure by criticizing the state’s harsh response and reaching out to top clerics for support.
One of those killed on June 20 was Neda Agha Soltan, a 27-year-old woman shot to death on the sidelines of a Tehran demonstration. Her dying moments on the street were caught on a video viewed by millions on YouTube, and she became an icon in the opposition’s struggle.
Mousavi and Karroubi attempted to assuage concerns that the requested memorial would spark additional unrest, saying it “will be held without any speeches and will be limited to the reciting of the Quran (the Muslim holy book) and moments of silence.”
The government’s concern about unrest has historical precedence. The deaths of protesters during the 1979 Islamic Revolution fueled a 40-day cycle of mourning marches, and shootings of mourners, that contributed to the overthrow of the U.S.-backed dictator, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Authorities allowed a close ally of conservative presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei to hold a funeral in Tehran on Friday for his son, who was arrested during a protest on July 9, the pro-reform norooznews.org Web site reported. He was taken to a hospital two weeks later where he died from his injuries hours after being admitted, it said.
Rouhalmini’s father, Abdul-Hossein, had scheduled to hold a memorial for his son Sunday but canceled the ceremony at the last minute without elaborating, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported. The Etemad-e-Melli newspaper reported earlier Sunday that Mousavi and Karroubi would attend the memorial, possibly raising fears it would turn into a demonstration.
A group of nearly 50 Mousavi supporters showed up at the site of Rouhalmini’s planned memorial Sunday to protest against the government’s crackdown on the opposition, said eyewitnesses, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. Many Iranian policemen were also at the scene, they said.
Dozens of protesters gathered in north Tehran on Saturday and chanted “death to the dictator” and “we want our vote back” before they were attacked and beaten by police and the Basij.
Police arrested “a few” of the protesters after the demonstration, Mehr quoted deputy police chief, Col. Mohsen Khancherli, as saying Sunday.
Witnesses told the AP that Saturday’s demonstration was carried out in solidarity with people around the world who held coordinated protests to pressure Iran to end its violent crackdown on the opposition and release hundreds of people who are still being detained.
Also Saturday, 69 prominent opposition leaders, including Mousavi and Karroubi, appealed to top clerics in the holy city of Qom to help stop the government’s violent post-election crackdown — reaching out to the one group that could go head-to-head with the country’s supreme leader.
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