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Monday, June 22, 2009

Iran Election Fallout: Reporters Targeted

The fallout from the rigged Iranian election continues with Reporters Without Borders reporting that 23 Iranian journalists have been arrested in Iran, with the latest news showing a Newsweek reporter, Maziar Bahari, has also been "detained", leading Newsweek to demand his release.

Iranian officials have attempted to clamp down on reporters covering the chaos that has stemmed from the election which is being challenged publicly by the opposition to Ahmadinejad, who was declared the winner within 4 hours of tens of millions voters having voted on paper ballots.

According to Reporters Without Borders, over 20 Iranian journalists and bloggers have been detained since the disputed presidential elections on June 12. In its statement, NEWSWEEK condemned the seizure of innocent journalists as a violation of the right to a free press in Iran, and called upon world governments to use whatever influence they have to make clear that the detention of Bahari is unwarranted and unacceptable, and to demand his release.

The Iranian regime has also attempted to block access of Facebook, Twitter and other internet based sites which the Iranian people, protesting the election results as fraudulent, have been passing along photos, news and videos to the rest of the world, since reporters cannot do their job, the people Iran has been doing it for them.

Two separate videos posted on YouTube and Facebook following street battles Saturday in Tehran showed a young woman with blood pouring from her nose and mouth as people — shouting in Farsi — frantically tried to help her. The YouTube video described the location in central Tehran and said the woman, identified on the video as "Neda," had been fatally shot.

The images began to appear on media around the world, including at protests by Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles. The AP noted the existence of the videos but could not independently verify the content, its location or the date it was shot.

The AP conducted phone interviews and exchanged e-mails with protesters who witnessed Saturday's clashes with police and militia, but none of those interviewed had witnessed the scene shown on the Web sites.

"Getting out the accurate verified story is the goal," said John Daniszewski, AP senior managing editor. "The restrictions now imposed on reporters in the country make it more difficult but we are succeeding nevertheless. We rely on correspondents in Iran and those outside the country to sift fact from rumor for the most reliable dispatches possible."

Iran's Guardian Council, who is supposed to be "looking into" the results of the election with a "partial" investigation and the accusations of fraud, has found irregularities.

The council's Spokesman Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, who was speaking on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Channel 2 on Sunday, made the remarks in response to complaints filed by Mohsen Rezaei -- a defeated candidate in the June 12 Presidential election.

"Statistics provided by the candidates, who claim more than 100% of those eligible have cast their ballot in 80-170 cities are not accurate -- the incident has happened in only 50 cities," Kadkhodaei said.

Kadkhodaei further explained that the voter turnout of above 100% in some cities is a normal phenomenon because there is no legal limitation for people to vote for the presidential elections in another city or province to which people often travel or commute.

A very interesting tidbit, reported on, in an article from BBC, shows that several family members of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful opponent of Ahmadinejad as well as the head of the Assembly of Experts, which has the power to remove the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were also detained, then released.

Security forces continued to round up protesters on Saturday - with state media saying 457 people had been arrested.

Among the detained were several family members of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani - a powerful opponent of Mr Ahmadinejad.

Analysts said the arrests came as a surprise because Mr Rafsanjani is head of the Assembly of Experts - a cleric-run group which has the power to remove the supreme leader.

All of Mr Rafsanjani's relatives were reported to have been freed by Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, Mr Mousavi, whose supporters make up most of the protesting crowds, urged them to continue their rallies.

"Protesting against lies and fraud is your right. In your protests continue to show restraint," a statement on his website said.

More updates can be found at the Guardian blog and Hot Air is keeping tabs on the news as well.

Most importantly, keep your eye on Twitter feed #Iranelection, where Iranians, mostly using proxies are risking their lives to post news, pictures and videos, so the world can see their struggle for freedom.

Within 3 minutes of opening #Iranelection this morning, 1106 more tweets have been posted. Some is hard to verify, but it gives people a starting point and even news organizations are grabbing information from them.

Updates to follow.

[Update] Via CNN, Britain is withdrawing the family members of its embassy staff members from Iran until the situation there improves.

[Update] Iranian authorities continue to crackdown to disperse any crowds protesting, with teargas and live rounds.

Riot police attacked hundreds of demonstrators with tear gas and fired live bullets into the air to disperse a rally in central Tehran Monday, carrying out a threat by the country's most powerful security force to crush any further protests over the disputed presidential election.

Helicopters hovered overhead as several hundred protesters gathered at Haft-e-Tir Square. Hundreds of anti-riot police quickly put an end to the demonstration.

Witnesses said police at the scene tried to prevent any gathering, even small groups. At the square's subway station, police did not allow anyone to stand still, asking them to keep walking and separating people who were walking together.

"There is a massive, massive, massive police presence," an Iranian woman told the Associated Press by telephone. She spoke from the location of the opposition march before it started. "Their presence was really intimidating," she said, asking not to be identified because she was worried about government reprisals.

The latest clash came hours after the Revolutionary Guard threatened to crush any further protests, warning demonstrators to prepare for a "revolutionary confrontation" if they took to the streets again.