Iran's mass arrests: Broadest since 1979 Islamic revolution
Eight Iranian employees of the British embassy in Tehran were arrested Sunday and stood accused of inciting unrest over the June 12 presidential election, reports the government-linked Fars news agency.
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The government has increasingly sought to portray the protests against the election as "engineered" by the US or Britain, painting its political opposition as essentially tools of a foreign power, though this has been dismissed as absurd by both the protesters and Mousavi.Skip to next paragraph
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In a sermon on Friday, influential cleric Ahmad Khatami – close to the views of both Ahmadinejad and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – labeled the protestors enemies of God, a category of crime that results in execution in the Islamic republic. "I want ... rioters punished firmly, without any mercy, to teach everyone a lesson," he said.
While Mousavi would like reforms to Iran's theocratic system, he was among those who helped overthrow the Shah and worked closely with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the country's first supreme leader who died in 1989, when Mousavi was the country's prime minister in the 80s. "I am fully aware that your justified demands have nothing to do with groups who do not believe in the sacred Islamic Republic of Iran's system," he said in a letter to supporters last week.
Among those detained are foreigners, like Greek journalist Iason Athanasiadis, Iranian national Maziar Bahari, a documentary filmmaker and reporter for Newsweek, and Ardeshir Arjomand, who is Mousavi's chief legal adviser.
But in the case of journalists more generally "this is the widest crackdown that I can think of in memory, and I've been at the CPJ for the last 10 years," says Mr. Smyth. "The scale of the arrests is extraordinary. At the moment, there are more journalists in custody in Iran than anywhere in the world."
Mr. Rahimi says that detentions of regime opponents in the past at least conformed to the appearance of legality – with the location of a detainee generally known. But he says his contacts in Tehran now report more ad hoc situations.
"It's like the disappearances [under former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet] in the 1970s, we simply don't know anything about the circumstances of their detentions," he says. "One guy who was arrested and released told me there's a large prison in the basement of the Interior Ministry. Another journalist went into hiding when the Basiji came to arrest him at his house – even his wife doesn't know where he is now. There's something mafia-like about the messages the government is sending now, you now, 'we're going to get you and your family.' "