Ashura protests

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Ashura protest in Iran
Date 27 December 2009 (Day of Ashura)
Location Various cities in Iran
Caused by Protesting the results of the national presidential election
Methods Protest
Parties to the civil conflict
Supporters of Green Movement
Iranian Government

The 2009 Ashura protests were a series of protests which occurred on 27 December 2009 in Iran against the outcome of the June 2009 Iranian presidential election, which demonstrators claim was rigged. The demonstrations were part of the 2009 Iranian election protests and were the largest since June. In December 2009, the protests saw an escalation in violence.[1][2][3]


Irregularities during the 2009 Iranian presidential election caused resentment among many Iranians. While post-election protests were mostly peaceful, some violence erupted, leading to clashes between security forces and protesters, while some outspoken political dissenters were detained.[4]

However, dissenters continued to speak out against the Government, leading to further protests in December 2009. On 19 December 2009, the Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who had become a "spiritual leader" of the opposition, died. Montazeri's funeral, held on 21 December in the city of Qom, was attended by a large gathering of people[1] and clashes ensued between security forces and mourners,[5] leading on to further demonstrations in Qom and Isfahan.[5] On 26 December, a paramilitary Basij force subordinate to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stormed a mosque in Tehran where scholar and former President Mohammad Khatami was speaking.[1][6] This was followed by continued clashes in Tehran in which Jaras, a news media of the critics, estimated eight to ten people had died.[1]

Prior to Ashura, Ayatollah Kadivar said he could not "rule out the possibility" of state intervention in the planned protests.[7]



On 27 December, demonstrations in several cities continued into the holy day of Ashura the climax of Muharram, the month of mourning. Protesters in Tehran gathered "From Imam Hussain Square to Freedom Square", "from east to west along Revolution Street", and it was on this day that "the political and religious symbology of Iran's Islamic regime was turned on its head".[8] The protesters made another symbolic move- a "symbolic journey from a square named after its most revered hero toward a monument dedicated to freedom, along a street called Revolution."[8]

Seyed Ali Mousavi, the 35-year-old nephew of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, was among those killed in the violence.[5][8] Later, it was reported that his body had disappeared, precluding the possibility of a quick burial, while state sources indicated that an autopsy was being performed.[5] Mousavi was buried on 30 December.[9]

Similar protests took place in other Iranian cities including Isfahan, Najafabad, Shiraz, Mashhad, Arak, Tabriz, Babol, Ardabil and Orumieh.[6][10] Four people were reportedly killed in Tabriz, in north western Iran on 27 December, and one in Shiraz in the south of Iran.[11][10] Access for international news media has been severely restricted by the Iranian government.[5]

State controlled media initially denied any deaths, though it was indicated on 28 December that 15 had died, including ten "well-known anti-revolutionary terrorists".[1] According to the official news agency of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Tehran's Safety Services said that "Nine residential buildings, 9 vehicles, 7 shops, 2 banks and 3 power stations were set on fire [by anti-government protesters]."[12] On 30 December, counter-rallies staged and organized by the government at various cities, including Tehran, Qom, Arak, Shiraz and Isfahan called for the death of the protesters, with government workers receiving the day off work in order to attend the demonstrations.[9]


Security forces allegedly opened fire on the day of Ashura, the Shiite holy day "symbolically about justice", a day on which any kind of violence is forbidden.[13][7] Security forces initially denied reports of deaths and the Police Chief, Azizollah Rajabzadeh, stated that the police had not been armed, however, state television later acknowledged fatalities.[11][14] Although official sources in Iran denied involvement of security forces in killing of protesters, at least one amateur video shows, the security truck which was deliberately running over the protesters.[15] Other evidence says that security forces were armed with guns and shot at protesters, including one amateur video showing a plainclothes security force directly shooting at protesters.[16]

Vandalism was reported by the Iranian government, with Tehran's Safety Services saying that "Nine residential buildings, 9 vehicles, 7 shops, 2 banks and 3 power stations were set on fire." by the anti-government forces[17]


Among the hundreds of people arrested in the aftermath of the Ashura demonstrations area are prominent lawyers, journalists, clerics and politicians, as well as family members of prominent human rights activists and reformist politicians.[5] Some notable people arrested in the aftermath of the protests include:

  • Ebrahim Yazdi, the Secretary-General of the Freedom Movement of Iran.[18] Yazdi's niece Leila Tavassoli was reportedly arrested as well.[19]
  • A number of top Mousavi aides, including Alireza Beheshti, the managing editor of Mousavi's official site;[20] Ghorban Behzadian-Nejad, Mousavi's campaign manager;[19] Mohammad Bagherian;[21] and Ali Forouzandeh, Mousavi's Chief of Staff. Mousavi's brother-in-law, Shahpour Kazemi, was also arrested.[22][23]
  • Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi's sister Noushin Ebadi, who was detained in an apparent effort to silence Ebadi who is abroad.[24] Shirin Ebadi wrote in a statement following her sister's arrest: "It is important to note that my sister is not politically active nor is she a member of any human right organization. Her only crime seems to be that she is my sister and her arrest is nothing less than a political blackmail and attempted pressure. This is another method employed by the authorities in Iran to stop my activities."[25]
  • Heshmat Tabarzadi, an Iranian journalist and veteran democratic activist.[18]
  • Emad Baghi, a prominent human rights activist and journalist, and head of the Society for the Defense of the Rights of the Imprisoned.[18] Baghi reportedly told his family as he was being arrested that "he would be strong in jail, and resist pressure [by hardliners]." The officer arresting him responded: "He [Baghi] will not live that long to resist."[19]
  • Journalists Mashallah Shamsolvaezin,[26] Reza al-Basha,[27] Badralsadat Mofidi,[19] Mohammad Javad Saberi,[19] Nasrin Vaziri,[19] Kayvan Mehrgan,[19] Reza Tajik,[28] Mostafa Izadi, and Morteza Kazemian.
  • Mansoureh Shojaee, a women's rights activist and co-founder of the One Million Signatures Campaign.[26]
  • Morteza Haji, a former government minister and a Khatami aide,[29] as well as Haji's deputy Reza Rasouli.[19] Hasan Rasool, a Khatami aide and the deputy director of the Baran Institute, was also arrested.[21][29]
  • Political activists Mostafa Ezedi, Mohammad Reza Taheri, and Heshmatollah Tabari.[25]
  • Mehdi Arabshahi, Secretary General of the Office for Consolidation of Unity, the most important organization for university students in Iran,[19] and Rashid Esmaili, who is a member of the central committee of the Office for Consolidation of Unity.[19]
  • Zahra Bahrami, a Dutch and Iranian dual citizen, who was executed in January 2011 on drugs charges[30][31]


According to Ibrahim Moussawi, associate professor of Lebanese University and head of Hizbullah's media relations, the incident damaged "public relations" of the Green Movement with Iranian citizenry more than all events as the acts of the protesters on that day including "applauding, whistling, and engaging in other cheerful displays," was "widely" seen as violation of a "red line" and targeting Husayn ibn Ali and Ashura commemoration itself.[32] Lolagar mosque in Teharn was set into fire by the "rioters", according to the State TV of Iran leading to death of "few" people in mosque.[33] Various society groups including "marej-'e taqlid, the society of Iranian doctors, university student groups, the Iranian Parliament, Oil Industry Workers, the Iranian Women's Culture and Education Society, the Society of Iranian Teachers, the Iranian Professors Society, provincial governors and municipalities and bazaars" expressed their condemnation and many of them publicly asked for the "prosecution of the opposition leaders".[32]


Many people are set to stand trial for taking part in the protests. At least one person arrested in connection with the protest, a university lecturer Abdolreza Ghanbari living in Pakdasht, has been accused of "moharebeh," (an Islamic term meaning "warring against God") and sentenced to death.[34][35]

International reaction[edit]

The governments of Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States are among those who have condemned the violence.[5] US President Barack Obama openly criticized the Iranian government's violent crackdown on the protests in a speech and declared "The decision of Iran's leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not continue."[5] Russia's Foreign Ministry expressed concern at the violence. It encouraged "a compromise on the basis of the law, and also to take political efforts to prevent a further escalation of the confrontation."[36]

Venezuela condemned what it called Western governments' interference in Iran's internal affairs.[37]


Since the protest coincided with Ashura, the commemoration observed by Shi'as for the death of Imam Hussein, the third Imam of Shia's who were killed by the order of Umayyad Caliph Yazid I, protesters deliberately blended their political message with the Ashura's religious one in this protest. They alternated anti-government slogans with ancient cries of mourning for Imam Hussein.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Ulrike Putz (29 December 2009). "Violence in Tehran; Iranian Demonstrators Put Regime on the Defensive". Spiegel International. Retrieved 29 December 2009. 
  2. ^ "Ashura 101 – Tehran Bureau | FRONTLINE". PBS. Retrieved 22 September 2011. 
  3. ^ "Ashura videos [Graphic] – Tehran Bureau | FRONTLINE". PBS. Retrieved 22 September 2011. 
  4. ^ Amnesty International, Opposition leaders detained in Iran, 19 June 2009 [1]
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h BBC (28 December 2009). "Iran opposition figures arrested after protests". BBC. Retrieved 29 December 2009. 
  6. ^ a b c d Erdbrink, Thomas (27 December 2009). "Anti-government protests turn deadly in Tehran". Washington Post. Washington D.C., US. Retrieved 27 December 2009. 
  7. ^ a b Kadivar, Ayatollah Mohsen (28 December 2009). "Iran Ayatollah: 'I Am Convinced that the Regime Will Collapse'". Der Spiegel. 
  8. ^ a b c d TIME Staff (28 December 2009). "On a Holy Day, Protest and Carnage in Tehran". Time. 
  9. ^ a b Ali Akbar Dareini (AP) (30 December 2009). "Iran hardliners call for killing rivals at rallies". Seattle Times. Archived from the original on 3 January 2010. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  10. ^ a b c d Robert F. Worth and Nazila Fathi (27 December 2009). "Police Are Said to Have Killed 10 in Iran Protests". New York Times. Retrieved 28 December 2009. 
  11. ^ a b "Iran protesters killed, including Mousavi's nephew". BBC News. 27 December 2009. Retrieved 27 December 2009. 
  12. ^ "No Operation". Retrieved 22 September 2011. 
  13. ^ Sciutto, JIM (28 December 2009). "Protester: 'Killing Muslims on Ashura Is Like Crucifying Christians on Christmas.'". ABC NEWS. Retrieved 28 December 2009. 
  14. ^ "Iranian official: Arrest anti-government demonstrators". CNN. 28 December 2009. 
  15. ^ Barker, Anne (2 January 2010). "Mousavi prepared to die for his cause". ABC NEWS. Retrieved 2 January 2010. 
  16. ^ "IRAN: Video shows gunman opening fire on demonstrators, who fight back". Los Angeles Times. 2 January 2010. Retrieved 2 January 2010. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b c "Dissident Iran Rises". The Wall Street Journal. 30 December 2009. Retrieved 29 December 2009. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Sahimi, Muhammad (28 December 2009). "A Second Coup?". TehranBureau. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  20. ^ Erdbrink, Thomas; Branigin, William (29 December 2009). "Iranian security forces raid opposition offices, arrest key dissidents". The Washington Post. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  21. ^ a b "Iran cracks down on dissidents after deadly protests". Brisbane Times. 29 December 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  22. ^ Fletcher, Martin (30 December 2009). "Iranian regime rounds up relatives of opposition leaders in bid to stop protests". Times Online. London. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  23. ^ Daragahi, Borzou (29 December 2009). "Students, militia clash on Tehran university campus". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  24. ^ "Iran detains Nobel laureate's sister". CNN. 29 December 2009. Retrieved 29 December 2009. 
  25. ^ a b "Release Emadeddin Baghi and All Arbitrarily Arrested Iranians". Payvand Iran news. 30 December 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  26. ^ a b "Sister of Iran's Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi Arrested". Radio Free Europe. 30 December 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  27. ^ "Syrian reporter held in Iran to be freed by Thursday". WashingtonTV. 30 December 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  28. ^ "Press group condemns recent arrests of journalists in Iran". WashingtonTV. 30 December 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  29. ^ a b "Iranian dissenters reportedly arrested". CNN. 29 December 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  30. ^ "Death sentence fears for Dutch-Iranian woman", Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 24 August 2010, retrieved 25 August 2010 
  31. ^ "Iran hangs Iranian-Dutch woman Sahra Bahrami", BBC News, 29 January 2011, retrieved 30 January 2011 
  32. ^ a b Moussawi, Ibrahim. Shi&‘ism and the Democratisation Process in Iran: With a focus on Wilayat al-Faqih. Saqi. ISBN 9780863568312. Retrieved 23 January 2017. 
  33. ^ Editorial. "People killed in mosque fire during unrest-Iran TV". Reuters UK. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  34. ^ "Iran: Stop the execution of Abdolreza Ghanbari". 2012. 
  35. ^ "Iran to try 16 people soon over December unrest: report". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 January 2010. [dead link]
  36. ^ "Russia voices concern over Tehran unrest | Russia | RIA Novosti". 28 December 2009. Retrieved 22 September 2011. 
  37. ^ "Venezuela blames U.S. for destabilizing Iran_English_Xinhua". 31 December 2009. Retrieved 22 September 2011. 

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