‘They’ve Put Batons Instead Of Books In The Hands Of People’s Children’
The following are excerpts from the account, obtained by RFE/RL, of a 25-year-old female student in Tehran of the scattered protests that took place in Tehran on February 20.
The opposition had called for the rally to mark a week since the deaths of two students in February 14 clashes between opposition protesters and security forces in Tehran.
Around 3 p.m., two friends and I started walking from Haft-e Tiro Square toward Vali Asr square. Basij forces and [riot police] were everywhere. Their number was increasing as we got closer to Enghelab square. Around Enghelab Square, Basij forces had occupied all the sidewalks; they were looking at us with hatred
and mocking us. Some of them were filming the crowd with their video cameras. One of them said to the others, “Look at them, they think we’re stupid and we don’t know they came here for the demonstration. All of them should get killed.” I looked at him. Another one said, “Move! What are you looking at?” I saw on the other side a special forces van where 13- or 14-year-old kids were picking up their batons or cables. One of them said something and the other laughed. My friend said, “They’re training killers.”
We reached Vali Asr square; it was full of people who were on the move. They were trying to reach out to each other through their eyes. They would smile at each other and ask quietly: “Do you know where is more crowded?” They seemed to be walking without fear of Basij or security forces. They were standing in the smaller streets and telling each other to stay together to be able to form a crowd. They said we shouldn’t chant slogans until the crowd gets bigger because [the security forces] would disperse us. Slowly the special guards were telling the shops around the square to close. Wherever the crowd would gather, the Basij and security forces would disperse them with their batons. There were many people. Basij and security forces would beat us. We were trying to remain calm and not escape.
It was around 4 p.m. We were sitting in the bus station. Several plainclothes agents came toward us and said: “Get up and go. Why are you sitting here? Go home. There is nothing here. You were told to come here for nothing.” I said there’s [a bench] here for people to sit on. One of them said: “You’re sitting? I saw you going up and down. Do we really have to hit you on the head?” Another one of them said, “If I see you one more time around here, I will show you.” We decided to move and took a taxi.
The taxi driver said: “You should be careful, you know what kind of people they are. They’ve made the nation miserable. They are so scared that they’ve deployed troops in every inch.” We reached Shanzdah Azar, there was lots of traffic. The taxi driver didn’t accept any money for the ride. He said, “This is the least I can do.”
We were walking toward Enghelab square. The crowd had gotten bigger. We were all walking toward Azadi square. Enghelab street was full of old and young people. Security guards were everywhere. One lady said: “It’s like they’ve come out to demonstrate, not us. Look how they’ve put batons instead of books in the hands of people’s children.”
We walked with the crowd toward Enghelad square. Those who were tired would sit for a while and then walk again. What struck me was the presence of many middle-aged men.
While crossing Jamalzadeh street, we saw Basij forces attacking a young man, putting handcuffs on him and forcing him to sit in the street between them. I saw how he looked at the crowd and laughed. One of the Basij forces hit him on the head and made him look down. We were upset because we couldn’t do anything [for him]. They arrested another young man and pushed him toward the special guards. One of the plainclothes agents started slapping the young man in the face without [ any reason]. A woman went to him and said: “Are you human? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Why are you bothering [this kid]?”
We were walking again when the special forces made a sign toward another young man so that he would get detained as well. It was as if they would arrest whoever they wanted to in the crowd. Maybe we are all about to get arrested. They would take away some people in the crowd and ask them to show their IDs.
It was getting dark and it was raining. The Basij forces were roaming in the streets on their motorbikes and screaming. We walked back toward Enghelab square to return home. Basij forces were also there and they were dispersing people. It was raining harder, we were walking home on Hafez street when I heard shooting and couldn’t walk anymore. I looked, all around were Basijis. My friend was calling on us from the other side, telling us that she had a taxi and we should hurry up.