After six days of anti-government protests that have caught Islamic Republic authorities off guard, a series of pro-regime (and regime-staged) demonstrations took place around the country on January 3, while the arrests of anti-regime protesters continued.
The Islamic Republic’s top reformist politician, former president Mohammad Khatami, angered many when he presided over a meeting held by the reform-oriented Assembly of Militant Clerics. During the meeting, there was strong language condemning the anti-government protesters. But while much of the reporting on the protests in recent days has focused on reactions from top political figures, security forces have still been busy arresting hundreds of people around the country for taking part in anti-regime rallies.
Speaking to police forces, the country’s police chief, Hossein Ashtari, claimed that 70 percent of the protests' organizers have been arrested, though he stopped short of giving a specific number. According to IranWire reports and analysis and statements issued by governors and security officials in several provinces, more than 1000 people have been arrested in provinces all over the country since protests began on December 28.
In the province of Tehran, more than 450 people had been arrested by Tuesday, January 2 according to Ali Asghar Naserbakht, the province’s deputy governor-general. Officials in the province’s Malard County also said they arrested the “admin of a social media page that was creating rumors” — revealing the true nature of some of the arrests. This is one of many cases where officials have boasted about tracking people’s digital footprints and arresting them on the sole basis of their posts on social media.
In Karaj, a large suburb of Tehran, more than 20 people have been arrested.
In the holy city of Mashhad, where the protests began, the deputy prosecutor said 138 people had been arrested. In the central province of Isfahan, which was the epicenter of the protests on Monday, January 1, more than 100 people were arrested in different cities. Authorities had also arrested more than 100 in Markazi province, which includes the major city of Arak.
In Hamedan, the governor said 150 had been arrested, mostly people aged between 17 to 25 and some of whom authorities said “had connections with networks and media abroad.”
The northern province of Golestan, located on the shore of the Caspian, has also seen many arrests. According to its governor-general, 150 people were arrested for chanting slogans against the regime and for "disrupting the public order and security.”
Officials in the provinces of Qom, Kermanshah, Mazandaran, Kerman, Zanjan, Ardabil, Lorestan and North Khorasan separately made claims about widespread arrests in their provinces.
Arrest of a European and TV Confessions
In the Lorestan city of Borujerd, a local official made international news by claiming to have arrested “a European citizen.”
“This person was leading and directing the chaos and had been trained for this by espionage organizations in Europe and had come to Borujerd to run the riots,” said Hamidreza Bolhasani, Borujerd’s judiciary chief, in interviews with local media. Other officials noted that the arrested suspect is originally from Borujerd but has been naturalized as a citizen of a European country.
Ali Sabzevari, Lorestan judiciary’s head of public relations, said the suspect had been arrested “while carrying a camera and other equipment.”
As the protests continued, authorities kept up their harassment of civil society. As previously reported, a number of student activists have been arrested in the capital, and followers of the minority Shia religious order the Gonabadi Dervishes have also born the brunt. Adding to the previous arrests, Mehdi Azadbakht, a webmaster for the dervishes’ website Majzooban-e Noor, was reportedly arrested in Arak by Ministry of Intelligence forces.
On January 3, Iranian state TV broadcast the confessions of some of those arrested. Iran is notorious for broadcasting torture-induced confessions on its official outlets. Run by the country’s hardliners, the state broadcaster is blamed — even by many establishment figures — for adding insult to injury by not reflecting people’s grievances. In his remarks on the protests, President Rouhani chided the broadcaster for not genuinely reflecting all sections of Iranian society.
Iranians abroad have organized an active network of human rights organizations to respond to the events of the last week, and to report arrests. Monitoring the fate of more than 1000 arrested citizens is a heavy responsibility they now face.