On Tuesday, December 7th (16 Azar), Iranian students marked Students Day, a holiday that commemorates the sacrifices of Iran’s students in its long quest for freedom. In past years, such an event would have been celebrated by the regime itself, and the three students who were killed in 1953 by Iran’s monarch would have been hailed as martyrs for their patriotism and bravery. Since Iran’s presidential elections, however, the students have exercised their patriotism and bravery by protesting against their own government.
For a year and a half, the Green Movement has been standing up to the oppression of the Iranian regime. Once again, on Tuesday, students from around Iran turned out to protest. The largest protests were in Tehran, where thousands of students appeared at multiple campuses to show their unity against the oppression of their government.
Many who follow this story were surprised at the scale of the event. In the early summer of 2009, large protests were not uncommon, but the government responded by evicting foreign media, harassing protesters, and arresting scores of activists, journalists, and leaders, and sometimes even their lawyers, in order to silence opposition. Since February’s 22 Bhaman celebration, however, Iranian security forces have become increasingly efficient at shutting down large-scale protests. Since that time, as my colleague Josh Shahryar has pointed out in his analysis of Tuesday’s events, the Green movements defiance has become smaller, more subliminal, and harder to shut down. This protest is a sign that underneath the green paint is a movement that has far greater strength than is readily apparent by the casual observer.
But where was the press coverage? For quite some time, mainstream foreign press has ignored the internal politics in Iran. The slow development of a highly oppressed movement that faces extreme persecution doesn’t make for the kinds of sexy headlines or neat packages that most mainstream media groups and politicians crave when discussing policy. This time was no different. Out of all the main stream media sources, only the Wall Street Journal and the L.A. Times had coverage of the protests at all.
Without the media’s attention, Iran is capable of acting with almost total impunity towards dissidents, journalists, and internal threats. Hundreds of journalists, protesters, and human rights activists remain imprisoned inside Iranian prisons. Without a change in policy, many of these prisoners may die there. Just this week, news emerged that dissident Isa Saharkhiz is suffering from internal bleeding and is in critical condition. Many other activists, including journalist & filmaker Mohammad Nourizad and attorney Nasrine Sotoudeh, have their health threatened by their hunger strikes, one of the last tools available to these prisoners to bring attention to their plight. Others, like Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki (Babak Khorramdin), a cyber activist, have had to hide their arrest out of fear of reprisal against friends and family. ((Khorramdin was a member of a network of Iranians responsible for providing proxy networks for Iranians and for helping out-hack the Islamic Republic)) Still others face death penalties for little more than being ethnic minorities, like Zeinab Jalalian, a 27 year old woman.
The students of Iran, however, are not willing to let these crimes go unnoticed by the world. Last Tuesday’s protests were an important and significant sign that the Green Movement is still strong, if underground. On December 16th, Iran will celebrate the religious holiday Ashura. Last year’s celebration was one of the most violent protests of the post-election turmoil, where around 10 people were killed and thousands stood up to the oppression of the Iranian Regime. Again, we do not know what the Green Movement has planned for that day, but we will be watching, and blogging, to see if last Tuesday was the start of the rebirth of large-scale protests. Hopefully, the main-stream media will be watching too. The lives of dissidents, both in the streets and in the prisons, may depend upon it.