Iran police arrest mourners for Iran's "angel" as opposition seeks to rally

Iran's theocracy, wary that mourning can turn to political protest, shuts down commemoration for opposition "martyr."

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Iran arrested mourners who had gathered in a Tehran cemetery Thursday to memorialize Neda Agha Soltan, a young woman who was shot in June during protests against the fairness of the country’s presidential election.

There were some reports of clashes, with police allegedly beating mourners with batons.

Ms. Soltan, a 26-year-old music student, was shot in the chest by what opposition figures say was a basiji militiaman loyal to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Her death was captured on cellphone video and has become a rallying point for Iranians who say that Ahmadinejad’s reelection was rigged.

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A Facebook memorial page for her called “Angel of Iran” has more than 20,000 members.

Reuters reports that Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main challenger in the election, was forced by riot police to leave the cemetery shortly after his arrival.

Authorities have said Neda was not shot by a bullet used by Iranian security forces, suggesting the incident was staged to blacken the image of the clerical establishment. When Mousavi arrived at the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, mourners clung to his car, chanting 'Mousavi we support you', the witness said.

Today was the 40th day since Soltan’s death, an important day in the Shiite mourning cycle. Shiite Islam venerates its martyrs (one of their most important holidays, Arbaeen – or 40 – is essentially a 40-day mourning period for the prophet’s grandson Hussein, who was killed in battle 1,300 years ago) and public commemorations of deaths often have political overtones.

In the run-up to the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution, the clergy and their young supporters used the Shiite cycle of mourning for opposition members killed by the Shah’s security forces to mobilize support. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful man in Iran’s theocratic system, his ally President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and other forces in government have sought to defend themselves against such tactics by repressing dissent, refusing to issue permits, and seeking to turn the anger of Iranians toward Western agents – rather than their own grievances – as the catalyst for the past six weeks of unrest.

Ms. Soltan’s mother had encouraged Mousavi and other reformist politicians to attend the commemoration, which she had requested also be treated as a memorial for other victims of the post-election violence. Their application for a permit to hold the event was not approved.

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