It’s a dark day when a funeral is disrupted by riot police and militia, and the attendees are either beaten or jailed. In the wake of the post-election chaos that has enveloped Iran however, it would seem that we expect it. Mir Hossein Mossavi, opposition leader in the recent elections, was among those forced to leave a memorial service and funeral for the dozens killed in the last month and a half. According to The Independent, he was escorted out minutes after he arrived at the cemetery, and violence erupted when other mourners refused to let him go.
Mahmood Ahmedinejad – the current president – has been the target of protests, riots and demonstrations surrounding the disputed 12 June elections. These protests have been met with violence, imprisonments and horrifically fatal casualties such as Neda Agha-Soltan. Moussavi requested permission to hold a funeral outside Tehran, to pay respect to the scores of Iranian lives lost in such a violent backlash, his official website reports.
The ceremony was held on Thursday, 40 days after the demonstrations began, BBC reports. Moussavi assured the government that there would be no speeches or silences for the deceased, only Qur’an readings. Iran is a predominantly Shi’ite nation, and according to their beliefs the 40th day after a death is the last day of mourning – this was to be a final farewell for friends and family.
It was not to be so, however, as witnesses reported security forces storming into the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery and a prayer venue in Tehran, forcing people out and arresting any who questioned them. Around 3,000 people were at the cemetery, witnesses report, and Basij militia stopped Moussavi and his colleague Mehai Karrubi at Neda’s grave. The militia and riot police used tear gas on the crowd, and beat them – nine beating were seen, and soon the sight of people with bloody heads clutching bleeding wounds became common.
A woman was heard pleading with police, “Don’t beat up our young people. You, our Muslim brothers. It is a shame to beat up our young people.”
The government news agency IRNA claims that the order was disrupted and that there was damage done to property; the police were only trying to stem the “illegal activity”. Authorities also claim that Neda’s death was staged, in an attempt to shine a negative light on the government. While Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri supports Ahmedinejad’s actions, he does not agree with government reactions to the uprising after the elections, The Independent reports.
It’s shocking to think that 40 days later, the scene at the funeral was so alike to the riots that preceded it – innocent people in grief in the first instance and angered in the latter; all met with violence and imprisonment. When people cannot question an election through protest; when they are met with such an extreme reaction; and when a simple funeral for a group of young protesters – the government banned individual memorials for fear that the deceased would become martyrs – is thus halted, it is our responsibility to speak out.
Ian Kelly, spokesperson for the US State Department, said “We should stand by the Iranian people who were expressing their universal right to self-expression and demonstrating peacefully.”
Moussavi requested permission to hold this memorial, and organised it outside the city so as to not risk causing a disturbance. Yet he was blamed for disrupting the peace through reading the Qur’an and mourning in peace – in reacting so disproportionally, Iran’s police and militia have shown their disregard for the lives of their people and should not be allowed to continue doing so.