Inspired by the success of recent protests in Tunisia and Egypt, Iranians took to the streets on February 20, six days after a large antigovernment rally had ended with 1,500 arrests and two dead students. Iranian-Americans in New York could not join the rallies or watch first-hand. But thanks to a network that links opposition activists there with supporters here, Iranians in the metropolitan area were able to track waves of texts, images and videos that documented the progress of their brethren in Tehran.
Witnesses reported how Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called hundreds of riot police, Basij militiamen, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards to disrupt citizen marchers. According to a testimony obtained by New York activists, the government had recruited every man available, from 15- to 70-years-old, the largest enlistment of security forces in Tehran since the uprising after Iran’s 2009 presidential election.
Activists described online how groups of militiamen, armed with batons and wearing anti-pollution masks, attacked protestors who shouted antigovernment slogans like “Death to the dictator!,” and “Mubarak, Ben Ali, by the new year, Seyed Ali!,” making reference to the deposed Egyptian and Tunisian dictators, as well as the supreme leader Seyed Ali Khamenei. Other witnesses reported how militiamen used paintball guns to identify the vehicles of drivers who honked in favor of the rally for other authorities, and the unlawful detention of men and women who were caught filming and photographing the protest.