Over the past week, tens of thousands of Iranians in cities all over the country have been demonstrating against their government in favor of democracy. Protests erupted last week at funeral services for the dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali al-Montazeri, who died December 19, and continued to gather force into the sacred month of Muharram, during which Shia Muslims mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. The Iranian government has responded to these demonstrations with increasing violence — even on the holy day of Ashura, the culmination of the Muharram observances. The demonstrators have refused to be cowed, and the protests have continued to grow into what Iran expert Meir Javedanfar has called “an Iranian intifada.” Speaking from Hawaii earlier today, President Obama offered the following comments in support of Iran’s protesters:
The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in tensions, injuries and even death. For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so, they have been met with iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days. And each time that has happened, the world has watched with deep admiration for the courage and the conviction of the Iranian people, who are part of Iran’s great and enduring civilization.
What’s taking place in Iran is not about the United States or any other country. It’s about the Iranian people and their aspirations for justice, and a better life for themselves. And the decision of Iran’s leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not succeed in making those aspirations go away. As I said in Oslo, it’s telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. Along with all free nations, the United States stands with those who seek their universal rights. We call upon the Iranian government to abide by the international obligations that it has to respect the rights of its own people. We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained within Iran. We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are taking place there. And I am confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice.
The New York Times reports:
There were scattered reports of police officers surrendering, or refusing to fight. Several videos posted online show officers holding up their helmets and walking away from the melee, as protesters pat them on the back in appreciation. In one photograph, a police officer can be seen holding his arms up and wearing a bright green headband, the signature color of the opposition movement.