Turmoil in Tehran

Update (January 1, 2010 6:20 pm Pacific Time): I’ve just finished a new post to include news of the last 72 hours.

In case you’ve been hiding out in a post/continuing holiday stupor, Iran is going nuts.

Like a lot of people, I’ve been glued to Twitter and various websites, trying to get a handle on what’s going on in Iran. I’ve been interviewed by Radio Free Asia and CNN in the last 24 hours to provide my thoughts. And I’ve been twittering up a storm myself, passing along useful links when possible.

So, here’s what’s been going on:

Dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri passed away in Qom on December 19, 2009.

The important seventh day of mourning for Montazeri coincided with the annual Shi’ite holy commemoration of Ashura, December 27, 2009. As a result, many dissidents, reformists and other anti-government protesters took to Iranian streets in a renewed and continued uprising against the June 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Around 10 people have been reported killed during the chaos, including Seyyed Ali Mousavi Habibi, the nephew of reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hussein Mousavi. Opponents of the government have called it an “ordered murder,” while Tehran police have described it as a “terrorist incident” and Keyhan, the state newspaper, has suggested that Mousavi himself orchestrated the killing. The government is apparently keeping his body for “further investigation.

The other leading opposition candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, was reportedly attacked after leaving a Tehran mosque on December 28, 2009.

Hundreds have been reported arrested, including the sister of Nobel laureate and human rights attorney Shirin Ebadi, as well as Ebrahim Yazdi (whom The Daily Show interviewed in June 2009), and many journalists and leaders of the reformist movement.

In addition, Reza al-Basha, a 27-year-old Syrian working for Dubai TV has also been confirmed arrested. The Agence France Presse is also reporting the arrest of a British citizen.

Tehran has accused the US and the UK of “interfering” in Iranian affairs, and summoned British envoy Simon Gass to the Foreign Ministry office in Tehran. The government also turned out thousands of supporters of its own in cities across Iran.

The Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Larijani, called for “the harshest punishment” against the Ashura protesters.

Yesterday, President Barack Obama said: “Along with all free nations the United States stands with those who seek their universal rights. We call upon the Iranian government to abide by the international obligations that it has to respect the rights of its own people. We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained within Iran. We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are taking place there. And I’m confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice.”

Some Iran watchers view these protests as a key turning point. Prof. Abbas Milani of Stanford University described this moment as the “hour of reckoning” for the reform movement.

Despite the fact that there’s been a new wave of attention towards Iran online — including Chinese netizens using #cn4iran — and protests worldwide, I agree with The Telegraph‘s (UK) Will Heaven, when he writes: “There has been no revolution in Iran,” adding “There’s nothing wrong with spreading awareness outside Iran, but it’s horribly naive to think that supporting illegal activity in a foreign country has no ethical dimension. It’s equally foolish, of course, to kid yourself that you’re on the front line.”

So, what’s next?

Well, if there are any seventh-day mourning ceremonies for those who were killed on Ashura, then that will fall on January 3, 2010. Further, January 16, 2010 is the 31st anniversary of the day the the Shah fled Iran, and January 29, 2010 will mark the 40th day of mourning for Ayatollah Montazeri. Further, the 40th day anniversary for Ashura will be February 5, 2010, exactly during the celebration of the “Ten Days of Dawn,” marking the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran in 1979.