Peace Activists Protesting Gaza Violence Attacked by Security Agents
(13 January 2009) Plain clothes security agents attacked and disrupted a gathering organized by the Iranian nongovernmental group Mothers for Peace to protest ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip in front of the Palestinian embassy in Tehran on 11 January, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported today. Regular police forces present at the scene did not interfere and appear to have worked in tandem with the attackers.
The Campaign urged the Iranian Judiciary to immediately investigate and prosecute security forces responsible for the violence. It also called on the Iranian government to stop exploiting the Gaza tragedy as a political weapon to suppress Iranian civil society while violently preventing them from voicing their support for Palestinian civilian victims.
“The government defended violent demonstrators in front of Shirin Ebadi’s home who vandalized and threatened her in the name of protesting the Gaza tragedy, but when Mothers for Peace condemned the Gaza violence, government agents attacked them,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the Campaign’s spokesperson. “This shows the government’s blatant hypocrisy in using events in Gaza for violating human rights in attempts at political gain.”
On 11 January, supporters of Mothers for Peace held a demonstration in solidarity with residents of Gaza, condemning the slaughter of civilians and calling for an immediate end to armed confrontation. An eyewitness told the Campaign that shortly after the gathering started, a dozen plainclothes security agents appeared on the scene to confront and intimidate other protestors.
In response to Mothers for Peace chant of “Peace, Peace, Ceasefire,” the plainclothes security agents shouted back, “Death to Peace-Seekers and Compromisers.” They then physically attacked the participants, and attempted to confiscate cameras. During the ensuing mayhem, agents beat Raheleh Asgarizadeh, a photographer and a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign, and took her camera. Several others, including Khadijeh Moghadam, Bahman Ahmadi Amoie, Sadegheh Shirdel, Ayda Saadat, and Farkhondeh Ehtesabian, were also physically attacked by the agents.
Asgarizadeh told the Change for Equality website: “I had gone there to take photographs of the gathering by Mothers for Peace. As I was taking photographs, a plainclothes agent, while chanting “Death to Peace-Seekers and Compromisers,” attacked me to take my camera. I insisted to see his identification card to no avail. Other agents approached him and asked him to which garrison he belonged and why he is beating me. But his attacks became more violent and he started to pull the camera while I was holding the attached string tightly. Participants in the Mothers for Peace gathering came forward to defend me, but he managed to take my camera and slapped me. At this point his colleagues also joined in beating me and others. Ayda Saadat was injured due to beatings on her back and Ahmad Amoie’s face was sprayed. They also beat Ms. Moghadam and Ms. Ehtesabian.”
The violent suppression of the gathering by Mothers for Peace comes on the heels of an attack by extremist students on the home of Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate, on 1 January. The government justified the violence against Ebadi as a reaction to human rights violations in Gaza, accusing Dr. Ebadi of sympathizing with Israel. On 5 January, Hassan Ghashghavi, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman defended the attackers on Ebadi’s home, telling a press conference: “Lawyers should welcome civil freedoms and vibrant actions by students and should show more tolerance. There is no doubt that having only one voice in society is not helpful.”
“Iranian activists and human rights defenders are condemning the violence in Gaza in every way they can, but the government seems to want a monopoly on this issue, so it can suppress civil society and claim the high moral ground. But these recent actions expose their cynical motivations,” Ghaemi said.
The Campaign called on the Iranian government to allow peaceful assemblies and stop its accelerating repression of human rights defenders and civil society activists.