How long before we find out the true scale of what happened at Baharestan Square and its environs today? Some graphic accounts of widespread shooting and bloody beatings paint a gruesome picture of a day that could well go down as the Islamic regime’s Jaleh Square. So is Ayatollah Khamenei about to join Shah Mohammaed Reza Pahlavi in the annals of infamy (given that many say he actually did that a while back)?
There is a dramatic difference between some of the dry accounts being put out by the information-starved mainstream organisations, and the videos and tweets that have been running for much of the day. The BBC for instance refers to eyewitness reports of “clashes” in the streets around Baharestan. It quoted AP as saying police beat protesters with batons, fired tear gas and shot into the air. “Although some demonstrators fought police, others fled to another square. … Another witness told Reuters the crowd had been dispersed by tear gas, but did not know of any casualties.”
Or this from Martin Fletcher of The Times: “It was a far cry from the massive demonstrations of last week. Today, just a few hundred protesters converged on Baharestan Square, opposite the Iranian Parliament, and they were brutally repulsed. It was an exercise in courageous futility, not a contest.”
Yet this is the testimony of one obviously well-educated Iranian woman speaking to CNN: “All of a sudden some 500 people with clubs … came out of Hedayat mosque and poured into the streets and started beating everyone … and they were throwing [people] off the [pedestrian] bridge. They beat a woman so savagely that she was drenched in blood … I saw security forces shooting people on Lalezar… (later she corrects this to say she only heard shooting)
“This was a massacre. They were trying to beat people so they would die. They were cursing, saying very bad words to everyone. This was exactly a massacre. You should stop this, you should help the people of Iran. ”
Her language and what she describes echo the tweets of @persiankiwi who says he was at the square today. “Situation today is terrible – they beat the people like animals. I see many people with broken arms/legs/heads – blood everywhere.
“They were waiting for us: it was like a mouse trap – people being shot like animals.
“I saw seven or eight militia beating one woman with baton on ground – she had no defense nothing. Sure she is dead.
“So many people arrested – young and old. People run into alleys and militia are standing there waiting – from two sides they attack people in middle of alleys. All shops was closed – nowhere to go – they follow people with helicopters – smoke and fire is everywhere.
“In Baharestan we saw militia with axe choping people like meat – blood everywhere – like butchers. So many killed today – so many injured. They pull away the dead into trucks – like a factory – no human can do this – we beg Allah to save us.”
But not all accounts were so chilling. NIAC quotes another witness as saying: “I was there from 5:15 to 7:30. It was very tense. No one said anything, there were only a few chants coming from outside the square. Although the police were a lot nicer, the Basij continued to be brutal. … I saw many people get blindfolded and arrested, however it wasn’t a massacre.”
For the authorities, PressTV reported that just 200 demonstrators had gathered outside the parliament building on the square and another 50 in a nearby square. “Protesters, who had gathered in small groups at a nearby subway station in Baharestan Square, were dispersed by security forces,” it said matter-of-factly.
What is equally confusing is what backing the demonstration had from the opposition leaders. Mehdi Karroubi’s Facebook site certainly urged a peaceful protest at Baharestan, as well as a number of other squares in the city. But Moussavi’s website reportedly says today’s demonstration was not at his behest. Karroubi, however, has called off Thursday’s planned mourning ceremony because no location could be found for it, but his aides say he still plans to hold one next week at either Tehran University or Behesht Zahra cemetery.
In English on Moussavi’s Facebook tonight is this message: “Guns v ‘the greatness of God’, armed forces v mobile phones, batons v mourners, ;lies v cameras, national television v Twitter, bullets v Facebook, power v dignity … who wins?
It may be a while yet before a more reliable account emerges. But on all the evidence, it is hard not to disagree with Fletcher’s conclusion: “All that can be said for certain is the regime has finally recaptured the streets through strength of numbers and the unrestrained use of violence. Thirty years after the Iranian revolution it no longer rules with consent, but with military might, and it is cracking down with all means at its disposal.“