- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

Thousands of Iranians returned to the streets of Tehran on Thursday to commemorate the anniversary of the 1999 student demonstrations and show their government that they still do not accept the results of June 12 presidential elections.

Defying baton-wielding security forces who fired tear gas into the crowds, supporters of opposition candidate Mir Houssein Mousavi chanted “death to the dictator” and “hope you die, Mojtaba,” witnesses told The Washington Times. The latter chant was a reference to the son of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mojtaba Khamenei, who is thought to have orchestrated the crackdown.

The crowds, though smaller than the ones that rocked Tehran and other Iranian cities last month, were the largest in 11 days. Protesters congregated at Tehran University - the scene of student demonstrations 10 years ago that were violently crushed - in front of Evin prison and at other locations. The protests occurred despite an order from Iran’s telephone company to cut all SMS services, or text messaging, for cell phones - technology used by the activists in the past.

Iranian officials have said that more than 2,000 people have been arrested since June 12 but that most have been released. However, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said arrests are continuing as part of a targeted campaign against intellectuals, lawyers and civil society leaders.

The rights campaign says that more than 200 prominent residents of the capital have disappeared.

Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former member of the Iranian parliament who is now in the United States, told The Times that the crackdown is “worse than the chain murders.” She was referring to the murder of a half dozen Iranian intellectuals in 1998 and 1999 by members of the Iranian intelligence ministry. Some of those killed had signed an open letter in 1994 urging greater freedom of expression.

“At that time, they hid their actions from plain view,” Ms. Haghighatjoo said. “Now they are doing this in the open.”

The dragnet has extended beyond political protesters. Bijan Khajehpour, a business consultant, was arrested June 27 at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport as he returned from a trip to Europe. His whereabouts remain unknown.

Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and herself a political prisoner in Iran for four months in 2007, said she could not understand why Mr. Khajehpour had been detained.

“The activities of the firm he runs were entirely transparent. The guidance he provided to foreign firms was instrumental in encouraging foreign business investment in Iran. Every time I have heard him speak he gave a positive image of Iran’s economy and the future of investment in Iran. His arrest and detention don’t make sense to me or to anyone who knows Bijan. I hope and pray they will set him free immediately,” she said.

Mr. Khajehpour suffers from diabetes.

Human Rights Watch earlier this week reported that some prisoners have been beaten and confessions extracted under duress that foreigners were behind the protests.

Ms. Haghighatjoo said the opposition was now pursuing a two-pronged strategy. Iranians living outside Iran are seeking to persuade governments and international organizations not to recognize the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and to “highlight human rights violations going on inside Iran.”

She said that Iranian protesters inside Iran “are using any tools they can,” and that these would include strikes, dispersed demonstrations and boycotts of official events such as Mr. Ahmadinejad’s planned inauguration for a second term next month.

Mehdi Jedinia contributed to this report.

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