Wednesday, June 17, 2009

One day after the government revoked press credentials for foreign journalists and ordered journalists not to report from the streets

TO BE NOTED: From the NY Times:

Bracing for New Protests, Iran Tightens Crackdown

TEHRAN — In the face of a growing official campaign to block channels of dissent with arrests and restrictions, Tehran braced for a third day of mass defiance by opposition supporters on Wednesday after Iran’s leaders failed to halt demonstrations against last week’s disputed election results.

Thrown on the defensive by the biggest demonstrations since the Islamic revolution in 1979, the authorities on Tuesday offered a concession to the sustained rage here, saying they would allow a limited recount of the vote — an offer that was resoundingly rejected as opposition leaders sought to maintain the impetus of the protests.

In a message on a Web site associated with him, Mir Hussein Moussavi, the main opposition candidate in last Friday’s contested vote, called on his supporters to stage a further mass rally Thursday, and to go to their local mosques to mourn protesters killed in the demonstrations, officially numbering seven. His call directly challenged Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had urged Mr. Moussavi to work through the country’s electoral system.

Iranians using the Internet messaging service Twitter had already spread the word that another silent demonstration was scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday and called on protesters to wear green, the signature color of the opposition.

One day after the government revoked press credentials for foreign journalists and ordered journalists not to report from the streets, there were increasing signs Wednesday that the authorities were preparing further restrictions on opposition figures and on news about the protest. Government officials telephoned or sent faxes Wednesday to reporters in Tehran working for foreign news organizations telling them not to venture outside to cover events being held without an official permit. That included rallies by supporters of Mr. Moussavi and news conferences or other public events held without the government’s approval, reporters in Tehran said.

Government officials told journalists that they were at risk on the streets following an incident on Tuesday when a photographer was stabbed and wounded while covering a rally. Two well-known analysts, Sayeed Leylaz and Mohammad-Reza Jalaipour, were detained Wednesday and were likely to be held for several days, associates and family members said.

The Associated Press reported that the powerful Revolutionary Guards threatened restrictions Wednesday on the digital online media that many Iranians use to communicate among themselves and to send news of their protests overseas. In a first statement since last Friday’s vote, the Revolutionary Guards said Iranian Web site operators and bloggers must remove content deemed to “create tension” or face legal action, the A.P. said.

Defying the restrictions, new amateur video surfaced outside of Iran on Wednesday, apparently showing a government militia rampaging through a dormitory area of Tehran University late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

There were indications that the authorities were using more sophisticated measures, putting out misinformation on a popular opposition site, Persiankiwi. The site warned its followers in a series of posts to ignore instructions from people with no record of reliable posts.

But there were other, older reflexes. Reuters reported that Mohammadreza Habibi, the senior prosecutor in the central province of Isfahan, had warned demonstrators that they could be executed under Islamic law.

“We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution,” Mr. Habibi said, according to the Fars news agency. It was not clear if his warning applied only to Isfahan or the country as a whole, Reuters said.

In Paris, Soazig Dollet, a spokeswoman for Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom advocacy group, said at least 11 reporters had been arrested since the elections and the fate of 10 more was unclear since they may either be in hiding or under arrest.

On its Web site, the organization said Aldolfatah Soltani, a lawyer and human rights activist, had been detained along with “10 or so opposition activists, politicians and civil society figures” in Tehran and three other cities — Tabriz, Isfahan and Shiraz.

The developments came a day after supporters of Mr. Moussavi jammed into a line more than a mile long in Tehran. They marched mostly in silence, some carrying signs in English asking, “Where is my vote?”

Despite the media crackdown, extraordinary accounts about the protests in Tehran and other cities have reached the outside world. On Tuesday, many Web sites posted a wrenching video that purported to show the death of a student in Isfahan in a shooting by pro-government militia members. Other videos showed limp and bleeding demonstrators in Tehran after the unprecedented protests on Monday.

The numbers of opposition protesters did not match those on Monday, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians joined the demonstrations, enraged that the conservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was declared the winner of Friday’s election with 63 percent of the votes.

“Nothing will change if we don’t come,” said one protester, Madjid, 26, an employee of the Foreign Ministry who was afraid to give his family name. “We need to become a big force to achieve what we want.”

There were reports that at least two moderate politicians, Mohammad Ali Abtahi and Saeed Hajarian, as well as two other activists, were arrested on Tuesday. The government arrested more than 100 politicians and activists on Sunday. Some have been released.

The English-language Press TV wing of state-owned television said Behzad Nabavi, another reformist politician, had also been arrested. The detainees include politicians, intellectuals, activists and journalists, the A.P. reported.

Worry over the future of Iran, a country crucially important for its oil, its proximity to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, its nuclear program and its ties to extremist groups, spilled over its borders.

In Washington, President Obama said that it would be counterproductive for the United States “to be seen as meddling” in the disputed presidential election. He dismissed criticism that he had failed to speak out forcefully enough about the growing unrest in Iran.

“I have deep concerns about the election,” Mr. Obama told reporters at the White House. “I think that the world has deep concerns about the election.”

In Vienna, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the United Nations atomic energy watchdog, said in a BBC interview that he believed Iran wanted to develop nuclear weapons technology “to be recognized as a major power in the Middle East.”

As the confrontation inside Iran continued to build momentum on Tuesday, each side laid down more cards.

Reformers, with substantial popular support but without the power of the state, worked to gain religious backers, urging clerics to break with the government. “No one in his sane mind can accept these results,” a senior opposition cleric, Hassan-Ali Montazeri, said in a public letter posted on his Web site.

Supporters of Mr. Ahmadinejad — though apparently fewer than 10,000 of them — marched through Tehran’s streets proclaiming their candidate the election’s fair winner and chanting, “Rioters should be executed!”

The Guardian Council, the watchdog body that must certify the results, said it was willing to conduct a partial recount of the votes, the IRNA news agency reported. Ayatollah Khamenei, who had urged the council on Monday to examine the vote-rigging claims, said Tuesday that the candidates needed to resolve the issue through legal channels.

Mr. Moussavi’s representative, Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, said a recount would not meet the demands of the protesters, Ghalamnews, a Web site linked to Mr. Moussavi, reported.

Nazila Fathi reported from Tehran, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Bill Keller from Tehran, and Sharon Otterman from New York."

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