News / Middle East

Iranian Opposition Kept Off Guard Ahead of 1979 Celebrations

Communication services disrupted ahead of 1979 anniversary celebration as opposition activists call for peaceful demos

Demonstrators shout slogans and hold portraits of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (C) and founder of the Islamic republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (2nd L) during a protest outside the Italian embassy in Tehran, 09 Feb 2009
Demonstrators shout slogans and hold portraits of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (C) and founder of the Islamic republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (2nd L) during a protest outside the Italian embassy in Tehran, 09 Feb 2009

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With two days to go before the anniversary celebration of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, authorities are slowing the internet and disrupting mobile phone service in what is believed to be an effort to disrupt opposition protests.  A top religious leader is also urging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to release prisoners.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei boasts about the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution on state TV, two days tbefore the official celebration.  Meanwhile, on several Web sites, Iran's opposition is urging supporters to turn out for a "peaceful anti-government protest."

Observers inside Iran say the government is disrupting vital communications links, including the internet and mobile-phone service in an effort to keep the opposition off guard.  Opposition activists sometimes rely on text messages and the internet to coordinate demonstrations.

Several days ago, Iran's Communications Minister Reza Taghipour claimed internet speeds had been reduced "due to damage to Iran's fiber-optic network."  He also promised that repairs would be made "by next week."

Human-rights groups and Iranians living abroad say the government has detained more opposition supporters and activists, including Salah Noghrekar, the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and legal advisor to his presidential campaign.

Opposition Web site Rah-e-Sabz is reporting that Grand Ayatollah Abdul Karim Mousavi-Ardebili traveled to Tehran from the holy city of Qom to plead with Supreme Leader Khamenei to release opposition protesters in government custody.
 
Iran's Deputy Police Chief Ahmad Reza Radan urged Iranians on state TV to cooperate with security forces to make Thursday's celebration of the Islamic Revolution go smoothly.

"It is necessary for people to cooperate in order to make the celebration take place in a secure and organized manner.  Many people will be participating, so it is imperative to obey the law," he said.

Former French Ambassador to Tehran Francois Nicoullaud says that opposition leaders have urged their supporters to protest peacefully on Thursday, but he says it is not clear what will happen, since those leaders are more "figureheads," to a movement that is operating on its own.

"The leaders of the opposition have called upon their troops to go to the streets and demonstrate peacefully on the 11th of February.  So, will they be listened to?" He wondered.  "You know, [the leaders] are more figure-heads than leaders. The opposition moves through informal channels and not through hierarchical orders. This is a weakness for the opposition, because there is no central brain. But, this absence of organization makes it more difficult for the regime to develop counter-tactics," said the former diplomat.

Eyewitnesses say security forces in Tehran are preparing for the worst by removing plastic trash cans that can be set ablaze and deploying loudspeakers in key locations to drown out opposition chanting.

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