By Justin McMahan
June 20, 2009
TEHRAN - Police and Basij militia indiscriminately clubbed bystanders. Women screamed as a large group of Tehranis came running around a street corner toward us. We could not see from what they were running, but that it was Basijis administering brutal beatings is likely.
Today we learned that the Supreme Leader meant what he said yesterday at Tehran University. Opposition protests will no longer be tolerated. There were police dispatched all over the city. More than a mile from Enghelab (revolution) Square, I saw them stopping pedestrians, searching backpacks and throwing green scarves – a sign of support for the opposition – on the ground. Closer to the demonstration site, police employed water canons, tear gas and batons to break up the rally.
Around Eghelab hotel, where we are staying, I could not find a single person wearing green. Many walked briskly in the opposite direction of the planned protest site. Some looked as if they had planned to demonstrate, but then thought better of it. It is impossible to know for sure. In addition to the thousands of cops in camouflage, brandishing shields, helmets and clubs, there were thousands more in plain clothes armed with the same gear. They looked as though they might have stopped at the club store on the way home from work, then come to practice crowd control in the city center. It was one of these young guys who told us that a certain street was closed off. We turned and walked the other way.
Together with “Jerry,” our guide, we jumped into a taxi bus. After driving a few blocks, we were stopped dead in traffic, so we got out to walk. It was then that the chaos erupted. People were running and screaming. Most of them probably had no intention of joining the protest. Jerry steered us through a phalanx of riot police. As we approached another crowd of police, a few of them unleashed their batons on a man running down the alley. As Jerry reminded us several times, never run when the Basijis come, because they will assume you are among the protesters.
In this writer’s humble opinion, the opposition movement may not be over forever, but it is over for now. We leave Tehran in five hours.