IRAN: Mourners for Neda's '40th' Undeterred

  • by Sara Farhang (tehran)
  • Inter Press Service

Thursday marked the 40th day following the killing of the 27-year-old woman by a gunshot wound to the chest, an event that was captured on video and widely distributed via the Internet. Neda quickly transformed into a symbol of the struggle of the Iranian nation for freedom.

Defeated presidential candidates Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi also attended the afternoon mourning ceremony. According to reports, security officials prevented both men from going to Neda's gravesite.

While Neda's family had announced last week that they would be observing the fortieth day of her death at the cemetery, they were pressured into forgoing the ceremony, according to a close friend.

'Neda's family instead planned to go to a park in the Amir-Abad district close to where Neda was shot, but was advised against doing so,' the friend said. 'So her mother went to a park near their home, where in solitude she lit a candle in memory of her child.'

Despite the presence of security officials, people managed to hold a beautiful ceremony for Neda and others who had lost their lives in recent clashes with security officials, at times saying the prayer for the dead out loud and collectively, said a witness.

'While police tried to disperse the crowds initially, there were not many clashes. Women - mostly older mothers - managed to create a human chain between mourners and the police, who seemed to be charged with maintaining order during the ceremony,' the witness said.

'A large group of plainclothes officials watched from a distance. At one point the police were surrounded by mourners and while there was an opportunity for the crowd to attack the police, instead they began chanting slogans thanking them and encouraging them to join the protests.'

Some police who were offered flowers and dates - a customary treat at funerals - expressed solidarity with the mourners, despite refusing to accept the offerings.

'At one point, a large man, dressed in clothes similar to the Basiji militia, crossed the police line, and shouted, 'I am here to defend the blood of my martyrs', and began to loudly chant 'Allah-o-Akbar', as he joined the lines of protesters angry at the senseless and violent death of innocent Iranians in recent clashes,' the witness said.

Protesters at the cemetery chanted slogans such as 'Allah-o-Akbar,' 'Long Live Freedom,' 'Death to the Dictator,' and 'How many Neda's left till the break of dawn?'

According to the witness, there were about 150 police officers and special guard present at the cemetery and at Neda's gravesite. Entrances to the cemetery were closed off to prevent mourners from entering. The plainclothes security officers attacked the crowds with batons and tear gas shortly after 6:00 pm.

Moussavi and Karroubi requested a permit to hold a memorial service at the Mossallah Mosque in Tehran at 6:00 pm. Officials denied the permits, but tens of thousands of citizens gathered there as well as several other locations throughout the city.

Security officers attacked cars honking in solidarity with protesters, and broke their windshields. The streets of Tehran, though calm late at night, were filled with broken glass.

The families of those who were murdered in recent weeks had hoped that officials would be more lenient in allowing for a general mourning.

Last week, news of the death of Mohsen Rooh-ol-Amini, 25, the appointed head of the Pasteur Institute in Tehran and the son of a senior advisor to defeated conservative presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaie, shocked many conservatives.

According to a letter published by a former high-ranking member of the Revolutionary Guards who is also a close friend of the family, Mohsen was arrested on Jul. 9 during a protest objecting to the results of the election and marking the tenth anniversary of the student uprising.

After searching for several days, the Abdol Rooh-ol-Amini finally received a phone call informing him of the death of his son. The letter states that Mohsen had been tortured while in prison and his jaw and teeth were badly broken. According to statements by his father, Mohsen died as a result of injuries received while in detention.

Mohsen's death has increased attention from conservatives on the plight of the hundreds reportedly missing as a result of the recent violence as well as the situation of those in prison, who according to many reports are being held in substandard conditions and being tortured and left to die. The cases of several who have died as a result of beatings lend weight to these accounts.

The Rooh-ol-Amini family, too, was pressured into forgoing funeral services for their son, which were scheduled to take place last week.

In an interview with semi-official PressTV, Abdol Hossein Rooh-ol-Amini described his son as someone who 'was curious and actively in search of the truth. Of course, it was difficult to persuade him. Like many of the youth of his generation, he was far ahead of us.'

His father has vowed to follow up on the cases of other missing youth. 'Our Mohsen will not be returned to us, but there are others who must be helped,' he said.

Following reports of the death of Mohsen, conservative parlimentarians set up a committee to investigate the situation of those in prison, which was followed by several visits to prisons.

Additionally, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Kameniei ordered the closure of one of the prisons which 'did not meet standards'.

While initially the name of the prison ordered to be shut down by the Leader was not released, it was later reported to be Kahrizak prison, where Mohsen and others have been detained and killed.

Reports from those released from this prison have shed light on the extremely unsanitary and substandard conditions, as well as serious reports of torture. These reports, which have been published anonymously, have indicated that the detention centre was in fact a container, with no lights or bathroom facilities.

Reports indicate that some of those detained were violently beaten and tortured - sometimes being left there to die in front of other detainees. Some prisoners died because of lack of water and food, while others were allegedly forced to eat their own feces in an attempt to humiliate and dehumanise them. According to one report, mock executions were held for prisoners as well.

One human rights activist interviewed by IPS explained that 'while these stories have not all been confirmed, the details provided, including names of others in detention and those who have died, as well as the death of several in detention or shortly following detention, are indications of their truth.'

Moussavi supporter and former president Mohammad Khatami also issued a statement calling for further investigation of these prisons and accountability on the part of officials, stating, 'Simply labeling the prison as substandard is not enough.'

In an interview with IPS, Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former reformist parliamentarian who resides outside Iran, explained that 'the issue is not the closure of prisons. What is the point, when there are tens of secret prisons all over the country, with unaccountable officials who may torture those detained?'

The point, according to Haghighatjoo, is that 'there needs to be appropriate oversight over these prisons; those detained need to be released; the torture needs to stop; and those responsible need to be identified and prosecuted.'

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service