Iran opposition urges protests on Revolution day
Iranian opposition groups flooded the Web on Monday with calls for a massive show of force during next month's anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, openly taunting authorities who have warned of a punishing response to any disruptions of the most hallowed day in the Iranian political calendar, AP reported.
The blitz of messages and videos on opposition sites and social networking forums highlighted the continued ability of anti-government forces to harness the Internet despite attempts by Iranian officials to cripple their Web outreach.
It also suggested that the Feb. 11 commemorations could become a replay of the street battles that have marked other major political and religions dates in past months that anti-government protesters have used to challenge the ruling system. In the latest violence, at least eight people died in clashes between security forces and opposition supporters across Iran in late December, including a nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.
The barrage of opposition Web postings picked up steam Monday with some drawing parallels between the current showdowns against Iran's Islamic leaders and the 1979 groundswell that toppled the Western-backed monarchy.
One video featured patriotic music with scenes from 1979 and the demonstrations that began with claims of vote-rigging in last June's presidential election.
"Countrymen, rise up," read one message by the opposition blog Balatarin.com. "Victory is near."
The blog included a calendar marking the dates of the large opposition marches since June and pointing ahead to plans for upcoming protests - the next being timed to coincide the government's Feb. 11 events that culminate with a huge political gathering in Tehran's Azadi Square.
Iranian authorities have warned opposition groups that security forces would crush any protests on the anniversary, claiming riot police and hard-line militias have shown restraint so far despite using clubs, tear gas and gunfire. The opposition says more than 80 protesters have been killed since June, while the government puts the number of confirmed dead at less than 40.
On Monday, Iran put five people on trial over their alleged roles in anti-government protests on Dec. 27 - a significant day of Shiite religious events - that sparked the worst street violence in months, state television reported. If found guilty, they could face the death penalty.
The five, who were not identified, have been accused of cooperating with the People's Mujahedeen, an armed opposition group, the report said. The broadcast showed the defendants in a courtroom but their faces were not visible.
It was the worst bloodshed since the height of the unrest immediately after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A prosecutor read out a lengthy indictment against the five, accusing them of a serious crime against Islam and the state known as "moharebeh," or defying God, which is punishable by death.
More than 100 opposition figures were brought before judges starting in August in what critics have said was a show trial with coerced confessions. Prosecutors accuse them of seeking to topple the country's ruling Islamic system.
The court has so far sentenced five people to death and handed down more than 80 prison sentences ranging from six months to 15 years.
After the December clashes, police chief Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam warned opposition protesters to stay off the streets or face harsh consequences.
"In dealing with previous protests, police showed leniency. But given that these opponents are seeking to topple (the ruling system), there will be no mercy," Moghaddam said, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. "We will take severe action. The era of tolerance is over. Anyone attending such rallies will be crushed."
In a statement posted last week on a judicial Web site, Iran's top prosecutor ordered his representative in Tehran to seek the harshest measures against opposition protesters detained in the Dec. 27 unrest.
"Strong action must be taken against seditionist elements," General Prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi said in the statement, addressing Tehran chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi.
But opposition appeared undaunted.
Web posts urged government opponents to expand their campaign of graffiti and writing slogans on money. Dozens of messages called for protesters to pour onto the streets on Feb. 11 - which marks the day the last security forces of the shah collapsed.
"Unite, fight, victory," said one blog. Another proclaimed: "I will get my country back."
The blog IlovemyIran.wordpress.com made suggestions for slogans to chant at the next rally. They included: "Our nation is awake."
Also Monday, Iran vowed to take revenge on Israel and the United States for the slaying last week of a physics professor in a mysterious bomb attack, the official news agency IRNA reported.
Iranian officials have blamed an exiled opposition group known as the People's Mujahedeen, accusing it of acting on behalf of Israel and the U.S. The armed opposition group and Washington have denied involvement, while Israel has not commented.
It remains unclear why the 50-year-old Tehran University professor, Masoud Ali Mohammadi, would have been a target for assassins who left a bomb-rigged motorcycle outside his home on Jan. 12. Ali Mohammadi had no prominent political voice, no published work with military relevance and no declared links to Iran's nuclear program, though his work included some aspects of nuclear theory.
"Rest assured that Iran will take revenge for the blood of martyr Ali Mohammadi from you," Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said, addressing Israel and the United States.