July 10: Updates on Iran's Post-Election Turmoil
As we have since the morning of the presidential election in Iran on June 12, The Lede is continuing to track the reaction to the vote, and the disputed results, online. After Thursday’s renewed protests, on the tenth anniversary of student demonstrations that were met with violence in 1999, more evidence of the protests, and the authorities response to them, continues to appear on the Web.
Readers who are inside Iran, or in touch with people there, are invited to share text, video or photo accounts of the protests with us, using the comments box below this post.
Update | 5:58 p.m. Finally for today, here are two video reports from Al Jazeera English. The first is this 23 minute documentary on the protests shot recently in Iran by the French filmmaker Manon Loizeau, which was uploaded to the Web with an English soundtrack and subtitles on Friday:
Here is an interview with Iason Athanasiadis, a Greek journalist who was detained for three weeks in Tehran’s Evin prison before being released:
Update | 5:39 p.m. The Flickr page associated with opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, Mousavi1388, has posted a number of photographs of Thursday’s protests in Tehran.
A blogger who supports the opposition says that this video, uploaded to YouTube on Thursday, shows protests yesterday in the Iranian city of Rasht. If any readers have more information about this video and can help us try to confirm its authenticity, we would appreciate hearing from you.
Another blogger points us to this radio report we missed two weeks ago, posted on YouTube by National Public Radio (it shows subtitles). As Thomas Pierce wrote on an NPR blog, “NPR’s Davar Ardalan interviewed Simin Behbahani, Iran’s national poet, today from Tehran. She’s 82 years-old and one of the most respected figures in modern Iran. She recites two poems inspired by recent events — one dedicated to the people of Iran and another to Neda, the woman whose death during the protests was viewed by millions on the web and on TV.”
Update | 4:34 p.m. This video, of tear gas being shot at protesters, was uploaded to YouTube late on Thursday and appears to show some of the protests in Tehran yesterday:
The blogger who pointed to this video, also uploaded on Thursday, says that it shows a member of the Basij militia throwing a rock at the citizen journalist, having spotted that person’s camera:
Update | 4:09 p.m. As readers and bloggers have noted, it appears that Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American urban planner who lives in Tehran, and was held for several months in 2007, has been arrested.
On Friday, The Associated Press reported:
The family of an Iranian-American scholar says he has been arrested by Iranian authorities for the second time in two years. A relative says security forces arrested Kian Tajbakhsh late Thursday. The relative was in contact with Tajbakhsh’s wife, who witnessed the arrest.
There was no independent confirmation from Iranian authorities. The relative spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of concern that public comments could aggravate Tajbakhsh’s situation.
Tajbakhsh spent four months in prison in 2007 on charges of endangering national security. He denied the allegations.
During his prior captivity, in July 2007, Mr. Tajbakhsh, who had ties to the Open Society Institute financed by George Soros, was forced to appear on state television and make a statement implying that he had a role in some sort of anti-government plot. Apparently reading from notes, he said that the aim of his work was “to divide the people from the government.”
In September of that year, Mr. Tajbakhsh was released from Tehran’s Evin Prison, after his family paid nearly $107,000 in bail.
Just before last month’s election, Mr. Tajbakhsh, who is writing a book on democracy promotion and political Islam, took part in a roundtable discussion of President Barack Obama’s address to the Muslim world on the Room for Debate blog on this Web site.
On June 4, Mr. Tajbakhsh wrote:
Most ordinary Iranians here in Iran will react to President Obama’s important Cairo speech once the text is translated into Persian and excerpts are broadcast in the next few days. I mention the fact of translation deliberately because Iranians here will interpret his words as well as his intentions through several prisms: language (most educated Iranians are not conversant in English), history (the revolutionary discourse of anti-Americanism), the government’s reaction and the current presidential election.
For Iranians, language, history, government reaction and the current presidential election cannot be divorced from any interpretation of Obama’s speech.
The vast majority will register with the sincerity but also realism of President Obama’s ideas and arguments. Many will note his acknowledgment that U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan could have been handled better. The devout will appreciate his recognition of Islam’s importance to Western civilization, although some will be unsure whether his claim that Islam is “a part of America” is a peculiarity or an ideal to be replicated in their own country with other religions.
His comments on the Holocaust will be generally accepted, although a larger group will continue to wonder why the bond between the United States and Israel is “unbreakable.”
President Obama’s claim that “elections alone do not make a true democracy” may lead some to look further into what would do so but then would find little guidance from public discourse here beyond the criteria of national “self-determination and independence.” For the millions who have friends and relatives in the U.S. and who travel peacefully to the West, President Obama’s rejection of the idea “that we are fated to disagree and that civilizations are doomed to clash” would find no dissenters.
But for a significant minority, the claim that the U.S. is not “a self-interested empire” will ring hollow.
As Iranians engage in a contentious election, they might most of all ponder Barack Obama’s challenge to Iran to articulate “not what it is against, but what future it wants to build.” Each Iranian will wonder how much thought our rulers or our fellow countrymen have given to this critical question and why answers to it are so vague and so few.
In an article for The New York Times Magazine in 2007, Negar Azimi wrote about the detention of Mr. Tajbakhsh and another Iranian-American scholar, Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:
Before their recent arrests, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh were very cautious in their work. Esfandiari, now 67, came and went to Iran at least twice each year to see her aging mother. A petite and sweetly fierce grandmother herself, Esfandiari was careful about whom she saw and what she said, keen on being balanced in her views. She was a tireless facilitator of dialogue between the two countries, organizing dozens of exchanges between Iran and the U.S. with people of diverse agendas and backgrounds in her capacity as head of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. She was so evenhanded that in some exile circles she was viewed as an apologist for the Iranian government. She was often called upon to lend nuance when public discussions about Iran veered into hyperbole; she declined offers to appear on Voice of America, for fear of being tied to an American agenda.
So when she was stopped in Tehran on Dec. 30 last year, en route to the airport, and had her passports taken away, it came as a surprise. She faced weeks of interrogations — sometimes for up to eight hours at a time. In February, they unexpectedly came to a halt. Her passports, however, were not returned to her. And then on May 8 she was arrested. Kian Tajbakhsh was arrested and taken from his home in Tehran. Both have since been accused of taking part in efforts to destabilize the government, charges that could carry the death penalty. The Intelligence Ministry has been keen to point out that the Wilson Center receives U.S. government money, as well as money from the Open Society Institute, the New York-based foundation begun by the financier George Soros. On May 22, the ministry announced that O.S.I. had “played key roles in intrigues that have led to color revolutions in former Soviet republics in recent years” and now aimed to overthrow Iran’s government as well.
Not only was Tajbakhsh given official sanction by Iran for his work with O.S.I., but he also undertook several projects directly for the government. To many who knew him and his work, O.S.I.’s being implicated in a conspiracy to topple the regime was absurd. The organization was invited by the Iranian government to provide technical assistance on a project related to IV drug use in 2002. Since then, it had been invited to work on projects from H.I.V./AIDS education to contributing to the relief efforts following a 2003 earthquake that devastated the southeastern city of Bam. “Kian’s activities were done in plain view and with the knowledge of the Iranian government,” Anthony Richter, O.S.I.’s associate director, recently told me.
Still, Tajbakhsh was aware of an increased sensitivity in recent months to contacts with the West. In early April, he was part of a group planning to launch an NGO that would help other NGOs maintain their books — to be more transparent and accountable. “I know, very dry,” he said, laughing, when we discussed the project earlier this spring in his Tehran apartment. He recounted a recent meeting of the proposed board in which they debated the question of whether they would apply for any foreign financing or be a part of any international networks. “We all voted against it,” he said.
“One always has to make compromises and choices,” he continued. “The compromises reinforce isolation, but perhaps this is what you have to do to exist.” Since Ahmadinejad’s election, a new NGO law had been drafted, instituting all manner of procedural pettifoggery to dissuade people from engaging with civil society at all. I asked him what the biggest change was as a result. “Withdrawal,” he said. “Quiescence.”
The most painful paradox in all of this may be that neither Tajbakhsh nor Esfandiari received American democracy funds and, in fact, were critical of the American effort’s potential costs. Whether their arrests are a reflection of an internal battle between pro-engagement elements of the Khatami and Rafsanjani variety and those who are increasingly insular (notably Ahmadinejad) remains unclear. What is clearer, perhaps, is that the very public nature of the U.S. funds gave the Iranian government the perfect opportunity to send an unsubtle signal to the world about the potential cost of engagement.