The protests that started on Thursday, December 28 in Mashhad had, by Saturday, 30 December, reached Tehran. Since the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election and the huge protests that followed, regime supporters have marked December 30 — the day when pro-government demonstrations were held as a counterpoint to the 2009 summer unrest — by organizing rallies against protesters who challenged the official results of the election that secured a second term for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But this year, it was anti-government protesters who dominated the day by chanting slogans against the leadership and high prices — and calling for political freedom.
The demonstrations soon turned violent. Videos published online show police beating protesting students after they chanted anti-government slogans.
Kasra Nouri, an administrator of the Sufi website Majzooban Noor and a Master's Degree student in Human Rights, witnessed the protests at Tehran University. On Saturday he was at the university to attend a class and says that protesters gathered on campus from noon.
“The slogans were centered around the economy,” he says. “Unemployment, poverty and destitution have made people desperate. Then the slogans turned to political and civil rights including the right to be free — individual freedom, freedom in thought and freedom for groups of people. University students joined the people because students are part of the people.”
The slogans he was referring to include “Death to the Dictator," “People are paupers while the mullahs live like a god” and “Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic.”
Kasra Nouri says that after the students chanted these slogans, security agents closed the gates to the campus so that the students could not join people on the street.
“It is sad to say, but they were throwing stones at the students from outside the university,” he says. “It is really sad because they should respect people’s rights as citizens. When we publicize citizens’ rights we must observe them. But not only we do not observe them, we beat people up.”
Nouri says that he saw many students injured from beatings at the hands of security agents. “Some had severe injuries on their faces and some students had fractured heads,” he says.
Pro-Regime Vigilantes Step In
The students then forced open the gates to the university — after which a pro-regime group entered the university and tried to turn the focus of the protest by chanting slogans about “Sedition," a pejorative reference to the 2009 post-election protests.
“In the afternoon they pushed a bunch of plainclothesmen and Basijis into the university,” Nouri says. They were carrying pro-regime placards and were chanting counter-slogans,” says Nouri. “Many students were taken away but I am not sure if they were arrested because, as far as I saw, they put some of them on a bus but they let them go after a few minutes.”
Nouri says that the protesters then moved to a busy intersection on Valiasr Street. Maryam is one those who was at the intersection. “I was opposite the Students’ Park,” Maryam says. “People were chanting strong anti-government slogans.” The scenes that she witnessed were very similar to those of 2009. “Riot police were all over the place and when the slogans turned anti-government they attacked people and threw tear gas at them,” she says.
Maryam says protestor set trash cans on fire to escape the riot police. She witnessed police beating people, including a young woman.
“They beat her so hard that she could not breath,” she says, “but others were too afraid to step forward and help her because they would be quickly arrested.” The police, she says, had their most violent treatment for those who were taking pictures and videos of the protest. “Anybody who brought out his mobile to take video was beaten with batons and would be arrested.”
Sara was one of those who was beaten by the police as she was filming the protests on Valiasr Street and her mobile’s screen was broken. “I started running with everything that I had in me,” she says, “but one of the plainclothes agents beat my hand and my mobile with his batton. It broke the screen and two of my fingers turned black and blue. I think we should use a second phone to record the protests. It would be dangerous if we are arrested carrying a phone with our Twitter and Instagram accounts on it.”
“We die, we die but we will get Iran back” is the only slogan that Sara remembers. She was about to film protesters chanting this slogan when she was attacked. “Then I ran and ran and I don’t remember anything else about the demonstrations,” she says.