Liveblog: Iran, 02/20/2011 (1 Esfand)

Live reporting of protests in Iran (February 20, 2011, 1 Esfand) from dissident websites, personal contacts with the opposition movement, and the international press.

James Miller will be reporting on developments in Iran starting at 0900 GMT. Please stay tuned. We try to confirm as much information as we can before posting it. We rely on reliable websites and verified 1st hand account whenever possible. If you have any questions or would like to share information, please leave a comment below or contact us on Twitter. For a simple, clear, and sharp analysis of the Green Movement’s lead-up to today’s protest, We recommend: After Tunisia, Egypt, and 25 Bahman, a Clear Shift in Iran’s Political Landscape

1841 GMT – 10:11 pm Tehran –

It’s late. Reports are encouraging, that the crowds in Tehran were as large as Monday’s rally, but that the protests were larger outside Tehran and even more widespread than they were on 25 Bahman.

It’s easy to look at the building momentum, then look at Egypt, and be disappointed in the outcome of today’s protests, or Monday’s protests, until one realizes that the people on the ground are encouraged, not discouraged, by recent events.

While we rest and let some information seep through the media blackout, our closing thought for the moment is an analysis by Persian Umpire.  And what an encouraging analysis it is:

My Funny Valentine

1824 GMT – 9:54 pm Tehran

An encouraging report – Tehran Bureau’s correspondent posts yet another piece of information:

I walked from Vali Asr Square to Vali Asr Crossing to Enghelab Square towards Azadi Square. People (hundreds of thousands I think) were walking densely in the sidewalks, with smiles on their faces. It seems that the security forces were given specific orders not to engage with the demonstrators unless they start shouting slogans. I saw many many Basijis and anti-riot police and plainclothes and bikes and so on. With the events of Feb 14 protests, people seemed to prefer demonstrating in silence in order to reduce the level of tension and violence.

We also share another video showing the large security forces on Enghelab Street earlier today.

1818 GMT – 9:48 pm Tehran

Unconfirmed: There are reports that after dark security forces used vehicles to disperse the crowds. People moved to the sidewalks and went in many different directions, and the streets of Tehran are still busy, traffic is still clogged.

1811 GMT – 9:41 pm Tehran

Our colleagues at Tehran Bureau have this eyewitness report from Tehran:

The number of demonstrators was about the same as Feb 14, but scattered across two axes instead of one (which was the case with Feb 14). Violence by the security forces was significantly lower than Feb 14, although their numbers were much much more (the whole city was virtually turned into a military fort). Demonstrators were mostly walking in silence, except when attacked by the security forces.

1806 GMT – 9:36 pm Tehran

Reports from the ground say that students in Tabriz were blocked by security forces and were not allowed to assemble.

Conflicting reports: Reza Sayah (@SayahCNN) is reporting that the streets of Tehran are getting quieter. There is always a lag from opposition websites, so we’re not exactly sure whether all protesters have been cleared from major streets and squares.

Mehdi Saharkhiz has added this video to his Youtube page, showing cars in traffic honking horns in Tehran sometime this evening.

This video, taken today, shows Mousavi’s house in Tehran being closed off by metal security fences. At the tail end of the video you can make out security forces, before the videographer hid the camera (or phone).

1754 GMT – 9:24 pm Tehran

Our #mediafail of the day – the New York Times is running a headline “Iran Squelches Protest Attempt in Capital.” Did they miss the protests in the other cities, or the fact that all of the sources of information we have verify that protests still continue? Regardless, they confirm an ugly detail, that the regime used ambulances to run over protesters and arrest people. BBC Persian also carried this story.

Daneshjoo News is reporting that protests may be still expanding, though we’re lacking confirmation.

There are reports of widespread unrest in Kurdistan. According to the blogger Mardomak,  there are protests in Sanandaj, Mahabad, Yaveh, and Marivan.

1713 GMT – 8:43 pm Tehran

The following is the audio transcript of a voice file sent to us by a contact in Iran. We cannot independently confirm the report, except to say that is is consistent with other reports we’ve received:

I’m reporting from Enghelab St. people are still marching.

At 1800 in Vali-e-Asr St. they arrested some youths, beating one of them viciously.

At 1700 in Enghelab St. intersection of Vesal St. the merceneries beat a young girl and arrested her.

They arrested some and put them in their vans that were stationed at Vesal’s gas station.

If some body stopped walking they arrested him/her.

Now that is 1900 the crowd is still marching in Enghelab St.

The suppressive forces are present full force. All kind of suppressive forces are used. They viciously beat people and arrest them.

I have witnessed the arrest of more than 10 to 15 people.

1702 GMT – 8:32 pm Tehran

A source says that the protests at Vanak Square are still growing.

According to the Tehran Bureau, BBC Persian is carrying reports that security forces are attempting to disperse crowds so that they cannot “form a core.” Several sources have reported that protesters are attempting to group together so that they cannot be dispersed and can stay the entire night.

Enduring America is carrying this picture, reportedly of protests today in Isfahan.

CNN’s Reza Sayah has written an excellent account of the events thus far.

According to Fars News, Rafsanjani’s daughter has been released (see report of her arrest below).

1618 GMT – 7:48 pm Tehran –

This update from Enduring America:

1605 GMT: Saham News claims clashes continue between protesters and security forces in Motahhari Avenue in Rasht.

1600 GMT: BBC Persian is now confirming that police indeed used live ammunition on protesters in Hafte Tir Square. At least one protester has been killed there. The channel that security forces used tear gas on Vanak Square protesters.

BBC is also reporting from an eyewitness that security forces opened fire on protesters in Mahabad in Kurdistan.

RAHANA is reporting that at least 50 people have been arrested as violence broke out in Shiraz today.

This video, reportedly taken today in Tehran, shows protesters chanting “Mubarak, Ben Ali, Now it’s time for Seyed Ali (Khamenei)…”

Protesters in Shiraz chant “Allah-u-Akbar.”

1600 GMT – 7:30 pm Tehran

According to the state press, Faizeh Hashemi, Hashemi Rafsanjani’s daughter, was arrested today near Vali Asr Street.

1549 GMT – 6:49 pm Tehran –

The situation in Tehran appears to be chaotic. Kaleme, a website linked closely to Mir Hossein Mousavi, is reporting that the scale of the security presence on the street rivals that of June 2009. A leading human rights organization is reporting large scale protests in Tehran, and many are reporting that the protests today are even larger in scale than Monday’s protests, but we just can’t confirm that yet.

Several reliable sources have posted this video of the intense security in Mashad, one of the largest cities in Iran.

Student activist Iman Sedighi was arrested in Babol and transferred to an unknown location.

1521 GMT – 6:51 pm Tehran –

We’ve just received a report that says protesters are rapidly gathering at Amir Abad in Tehran. According to the report, protesters soon discovered there there was little or no security there, and security has just begun to respond to the growing crowd. Also, we’ve received reports that people were taken away in minibuses at Hatf Tir Square. Both of these reports are unconfirmed.

It is raining in Tehran.

1502 GMT – 6:32 pm Tehran –

The sun set in Iran about 40 minutes ago.

Daneshjoo News is reporting that there is 1 death in Haft Tir Square. Jaras, an opposition website, is now confirming this report.

A street Journalist is reporting that students are trying to protest at Abresan in Tabriz, but they are being blocked by security forces.

1454 GMT – 6:24 pm Tehran –

There are various reports of three killed my live fire, but we have no confirmation at all (watching closely).

According to Scott Lucas (Enduring America) BBC Persian is reporting that the Minister of Culture site down. There were also reports that other government websites have been under attack.

Iran Green Voice of Freedom has a series of interesting reports that we’re catching up on. This first is that the website for Shahroud’s Azad University has been hacked and the homepage replaced by a memorial to those killed on 25 Bahman. They are also claiming that Enghelab Square has become the focal point for protests, where the number of protesters is increasing and the amount of security is on the decline. GVF is also confirming protests in Shiraze and Rasht.

1431 GMT – 6:01  pm Tehran

The following video, uploaded by @onlymehdi, reports to show riot police attacking protesters in Shiraz today.

1420 GMT – 5:50 pm Tehran

This update via Tehran Bureau:

“A Tehran Bureau correspondent reports the following: I just came back from the crossing of Beheshti (Abbas Abbad) and Valiasr. There were hundreds of guards over there and the young people were streaming south towards Valiasr square from there. The guards would walk between the young people and the people were just calm. But they will not stay calm for long. The whole city is on alert. Please note that this afternoon the weather in Tehran is cold, cloudy and rainy so disregard any pictures or videos that you recieve with sunny skies and warm weather. The action started here in Tehran around 3 p.m. local time.”

1415 GMT – 5:45 pm Tehran –

The internet is being slowed in Tehran, though some information is still getting out.

We’ve just received a report from a source in Iran that in Isfahan, in Enghelab Square, large crowds are gathering. “Bassij forces didn’t expect such gathering and they are currently few in number. Anti regime slogans are being chanted…”

This source also suggests that the crowd at Haft-e-Tir Square in Tehran is gathering with the expectation that they will be able to hold the square until dark.

We  reported earlier that the video (listed below) had meta data that is two days old. This report was incorrect. The meta data and the video were both uploaded today.

1358 GMT – 5:28 pm Tehran

Just in: Phone calls to Tehran from outside are being blocked.

According to Enduring America: “In Shiraz, security forces are trying to disperse protesters and not let them get a foothold in Mulasadra Avenue. They are being helped by Basijis in the attacks on protesters.”

According to BBC Persian, eyewitnesses report gunfire at Abbasabad in Northern Tehran. I’m cautious about this report, especially with the confirmed reports of tear gas being fired.

The list keeps growing, but there are reports (some unconfirmed) of protests in: Tehran, Shiraz, Tabriz, Rasht, Esfahan, Mashhad, Marivan, Paveh and Mahabad.

1349 GMT – 5:19 pm Tehran

While I sort through a few thousand reports of protests, I’ll leave you with a laugh. I didn’t see it, but some are reporting that the Iranian state news agency, Fars News, is saying that Tehran is calm and normal. In that case, ignore this entire liveblog and go outside for a nice walk.

1340 GMT – 5:10 pm Tehran

We’ve added a new disclaimer to that first video (see below).

1329 GMT – 4:59 pm Tehran –

We’re including our first unconfirmed video of the day. Though we’re surprised at how early the video has been uploaded, and it is of poor quality, we haven’t seen it before, and it seems to depict other eyewitness reports that we’ve received of the scene at Vali Asr Street. DISCLAIMER: we’re leaving it up for now, but according to a follower, the meta data for this video was modified two days before it was created. Update, the metadata seems correct. The video was uploaded to youtube today.

1323 GMT – 4:53 pm Tehran –

According to Dave Siavashi (Iran News Now) Peyke Iran is reporting that there are “impressive” crowds gathered at Haft-tir Square and Valiasr Street, where protesters are chanting anti-government slogans. At Imam Hossein Square, employes of the Electrical Department have gathered outside and there are plain-clothed police everywhere.

There have been reports of arrests on Enghelab Street (@SayahCNN). There are also many reports of clashes and tear gas on Valiasr street. Perhaps more interesting are the reports that protesters have completely taken control of Keshavarz Boulevard. One source said that supporters are moving to Keshavarz as they have been pushed out of other areas.  All these reports are still unconfirmed.

According to BBC Persian, protesting has begun in the cities of Isfahan and Shiraz. We have confirmation of these reports.

A source in Iran has just informed us that the IRGC is erecting a security wall at Pastor Street, Khamenei’s birthplace.

Also, an eyewitness has told BBC Persian that there are protests on Mullah Sadra Avenue, where security is attempting to disperse the crowd.

1247 GMT – 4:17 pm Tehran time –

CNN’s Mitra Mobasherat is reporting that security forces on motorcycles have begun beating people on the sidewalks of Vali Asr Street. CNN’s Reza Sayah is reporting that at 4 PM local time about 15 people were beaten by security forces at Revolution Square (Enghelab Square).

Jaras is confirming protests outside the State TV (IRIB) building. (NOTE: Jaras is has been the target cyber attacks this week and has been receiving a lot of traffic, so we will not be linking to any of their updates.)

1237 GMT – 4:07 pm Tehran –

Cyber wars – The “A Street Journalist” website has been hacked, though the hack only seems to have disrupted the front page. It is unclear who is responsible.

Reports on Twitter have been contradictory for a while now, but there are multiple reports that from various sources that suggest SMS and cell phone data networks have been disrupted in Iran. According to Enduring America,  “There are reports that Gmail and Google Talk are blocked in Tehran. EA can confirm that Gmail is blocked outside Tehran, but Google Talk is still operating.”

We’re weary of many of the reports of protests and clashes. There are reports that Keshavarz boulevard is under the control of protesters. There are also reports that special forces and basij units have taken control of the entrance to the State Television building. These are all unconfirmed.

1213 GMT – 3:43 pm Tehran –

There are several reports now that tear gas has been fired at the crowd near state tv on Vali Asr Street. This has been confirmed by BBC Persian. Also, Saham news is reporting protests at 7 Tir Square, Vali Asr Square, and Sohrevardi Street. These have also been mentioned by several sources.

1204 GMT – 3:34 pm Tehran –

The revolution will be televised – BREAKING NEWS – Opposition site Jaras reports a large group of protesters is gathering in front of the state television building on Valiasr Street. Also, major protests are developing in Hafte-Tir Square, Revolution (Enghelab) Avenue, and elsewhere. They protesters are chanting Allahu Akbar (God is Great).

1154 GMT – 3:24 pm Tehran –

Conflicting reports: On Twitter, reports of protesters gathering on the streets are pouring in. So far, however, CNN Reze Sayeh, and several other reliable sources on the ground, are reporting huge crowds of security forces, slow internet, and no protesters.

Protests are scheduled to start in the next 10 or 15 minutes, but as we stated earlier, they most likely won’t pick up momentum for a while.

The Iranian diplomat station in Italy who resigned earlier has released a statement (fa).

1129 GMT – 2:59 pm Tehran –

There are now reports that Valiasr Street and Sohrevardi Street are filling up with protesters. There is no confirmation of this yet. We’ll keep an eye on this. Protests are not scheduled to begin for another half an hour. On 25 Bahman, people only started to pour into the streets at 3:30. Also, information like that usually doesn’t travel this fast. One source has a guess that SMS traffic is being allowed so that the regime can spread lies (see earlier report below)

1115 GMT – 2:24 Tehran Time –

According to GVF: “Iran’s Telecommunication Company has sent text messages to Iranian citizens claiming that the planned demonstrations have been cancelled by the Green Path of Hope.” Mousavi has released a statement saying that the protests will go on.

While we’re keeping our eye on reports that security is building up in the main squares of Tehran, and on Gisha bridge in Tehran, we are also following this report. RAHANA released a statement that Kianoush Kamrani and Arsalan Abadi, imprisoned during last year’s Ashura protests and pardoned on February 11 (22 Bahman), have had their pardons rescinded.

1102 GMT – 2:32 pm Tehran

We’ve received reports that all Metro stations are closed in Tehran. We’ve also received reports that only Enghelab and Valiasr stations are closed. Security forces are once again lining up near Enghelab Square and on Valiasr street. There are also reports of heavy security in Vanak Square.

1045 GMT – 2:15 PM Tehran –

Mehdi Karroubi has released a very clear statement to the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani: I will not abandon my people. Once again, Karroubi is not backing down. (English translation here)

Toning down the rhetoric? Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani released a statement earlier criticizing the house arrests of the opposition leaders and the use of force against protesters, claiming that it will only intensify the opposition. A trusted Iranian told us that he believed the statement by the commander of Iran’s armed forces, Firouzabadi, was a dig at Ahmadinejad’s handling of the protests. It may have also been  a message to the people that the Iranian military understands their frustration.

1021 GMT – 1:51 PM Tehran –

Protests are scheduled to start at around 3:30 local time. We have unconfirmed reports of high security, especially in Valiasr Street, a street that divides Tehran in half (and is the longest street in the Middle East.

We turn to Enduring America’s liveblog for some breaking news and a snap analysis:

A Military Message? Some Internet eyebrows raised this morning by a report, on a Revolutionary Guard site, of a speech by the head of Iran’s armed forces, Hassan Firouzabadi.

Firouzabadi, ostensibly addressing generals in the “revolutionary” countries such as Tunisia and Egypt, declared that a nation guided by divine principles “cannot be stopped by bullets”. He pointed to the example of military commanders executed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to indicate what happens to those who don’t defend the new nation.

On the surface, that is a call to militaries in Arab countries to uphold the “proper” revolution. But, with rumours of splits in Iran’s military forces swirling, some are wondering if Firouzabadi might be sending a message closer to home.

And there’s another theory: Firouzabadi’s references to the past 30 years and puts out the message that a regime cannot win by oppression. So if that is true in Egypt and Tunisia, could the head of the military be indicating that it is also true in Iran?

0958 GMT – 1:28 PM Tehran –

The Islamic Republic of Iran has a history of making small concessions, usually before a protest or a holiday, in order to grab headlines. Yesterday, the Iranian judiciary reduced the sentences of German journalists Marcus Hellwig and Jens Koch from 20 months to $48,400 fines and released them.

Despite this “noble” action, blogger and activist Arshama maintains a list of at least 60 confirmed cases of journalists who remain in Iranian prisons, making Iran and China the top to worst places for a journalist to ever step foot.

0939 GMT – 1:09 PM Tehran –

Disgusting claim of the day (so far) – The state-sponsored Fars News is suggesting that MKO agents are entering the country in order to shoot protesters. This week, the Iranian government suggested that Sanee Zhaleh was a basij (plain-clothed thug of the regime) that was killed by an MKO supporter. Objective analysts agree that these are ludicrous suggestions. The MKO is a contraversial group, to be sure, but they have been actively supporting anti-government protests along side the Green Movement and other opposition groups since at least 2009. The MKO, Israel, Britain, and the U.S.A. are the regime’s favorite “boogie men” for all things evil in Iran.

Labor strikes continue at Abadan oil refinery, a significant and growing problem for the regime.

Another defection – Ahmed Maleki, the Iraniam ambassador to Italy, has resigned. Iran has had several major defections, including ambassadors to Norway and Japan, and some nuclear scientists, since June 2009’s election.

Mousavi, who helped call for this march, is still under house arrest. In fact, reports are that his communications have been shut off,  and a metal wall is being constructed around his home.  According to GVF, “In his most recent interview with Kaleme, Mousavi’s senior advisor Ardeshir Amir-Arjomand said that ‘Mr Mousavi and Rahnavard’s food is currently being provided by the security forces and we are very concerned about this … I stress again that the regime’s forces are responsible for their safety.’” That last bit is a warning to the regime that, for the record, if Mousavi and his wife starve or are attacked, official Iranian security forces are to blame.

Karroubi is still under house arrest. Though we’d hate to play the spoiler, it is unlikely that either leader will be allowed to join the protests. However, protests were large without them on Monday. We’ll see what today has in store.

0850 GMT – 12:20 PM Tehran –

Today is the 7th day of mourning (haftom) for the two men who were killed during last Monday’s protests on 25 Bahman. Mohammad Mokhtari and Saneh Jaleh were killed during a government crackdown against peaceful protesters at a rally for solidarity with the Egyptian people.

While we get caught up on the news (and drink some coffee) we’d like to start with our analysis of the current situation: Iran – Walking the Same Thin Green Line.

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