Defying a regime fatwa that banned celebration of Iran’s popular pre-Islamic springtime holiday, Iranians turned a cultural event into a political protest March 16 — and the Islamic Republic responded in-kind, killing three and arresting 500.
The protests have spread beyond the educated middle class, and among the poorer working class in the Iranian capital – a place considered a stronghold of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Meanwhile, the regime itself says that nothing is out of the ordinary. Ahmadinejad has diverted attention by protesting the actions of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia against (Islamic Republic-backed) protesters in Bahrain. And so far, the developments have not made the international media.
Iranians celebrate the eve of the last Wednesday of the Iranian calendar year with an ancient tradition of setting up bonfires and jumping over them on a day called Chahar Shanbeh Soori. Supreme Leader Khamenei issued a fatwa banning the celebration of this important day.
Videos and eyewitness accounts show that Iranians celebrated this day not only in Tehran but in other major cities such as Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashad, Ahvaz, Rasht and Kurdish cities such as Sanandaj. Videos also show that Iranians not only rejoiced by singing and dancing, but threw pictures of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad into the fires and chanted anti-government slogans:
- “Death to the dictator”
- “Mubarak, Ben Ali, it is now Seyed Ali’s turn [Khamenei]“
- “Independence, freedom, Iranian republic”
- “Death to Khamenei”
For the first time in the history of these protests, the southern part of Tehran, which is inhabited by the poorest and most religious population in this city also witnessed these protests and celebrations. IranChannel has received news that some of the worst clashes between the security forces and ordinary citizens occurred in this area.
Also notable are reports and videos of citizens fighting back, throwing fire-crackers from rooftops, and the security forces retreating in some instances. One video purports to show young activists with a bonfire controlling a street near Khamenei’s residence.
While Iran’s intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi claimed on Wednesday that nothing out of the ordinary happened on Tuesday night, government sources have confirmed the death of at least one protester in Tehran and the deaths of two in Shiraz, and the arrests of about 500 people in the capital.
(File photo of handcuffed wrists)