Citizen Journalists Propel Iran Protests

On Friday, I wrote about the importance of citizen journalism in Iran. That importance has only continued to increase; while foreign reporters were already restricted to their rooms and barred from publishing anything without state approval, they are now being arrested in droves, most without formal charges. Reporters Without Borders issued this statement yesterday:

The Islamic Republic of Iran now ranks alongside China as the world’s biggest prison for journalists. The crackdown has been intensified yet again following Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s endorsement of the result of the 12 June presidential election and the opposition’s decision to call another demonstration on 20 June.

Iran now has a total of 33 journalists and cyber-dissidents in its jails, while journalists who could not be located at their homes have been summoned by telephone by Tehran prosecutor general Said Mortazavi.

“The force of the demonstrations in Tehran is increasing fears that more Iranian journalists could be arrested and more foreign journalists could be expelled,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The regime has been visibly shaken by its own population and does not want to let this perception endure. That is why the media have become a priority target...”

Iran security forces have also begun to target anyone with cell phones or video cameras, meaning that those providing amateur footage from inside Iran are now taking an even greater personal risk. Even so, their work continues to provide a rallying point for demonstrators -- footage of a young Iranian woman named Neda, who was shot in the heart while standing in the street by a Basij militiaman, has "become a rallying cry for Iranian reformists and their allies internationally," prompting a mourning rally today and garnering coverage from CNN and Time, among others. I've reposted one of the videos below (there are several angles), because it is the most shocking, heartwrenching, and powerful footage I've seen out of Iran so far. However, please be aware that it is also very disturbing -- she dies on camera, so watch at your own risk

Police violently broke up the memorial protest for Neda today and prevented many from joining the thousands already gathered in 7 Tir square, but there will surely be further ramifications of her death. From the Time Magazine coverage,

...her death may have changed everything. The cycles of mourning in Shi'ite Islam actually provide a schedule for political combat — a way to generate or revive momentum. Shi'ite Muslims mourn their dead on the third, seventh and 40th days after a death, and these commemorations are a pivotal part of Iran's rich history. During the revolution, the pattern of confrontations between the Shah's security forces and the revolutionaries often played out in 40-day cycles.

...Shi'ite mourning is not simply a time to react with sadness. Particularly in times of conflict, it is also an opportunity for renewal. The commemorations for Neda and the others killed this weekend are still to come. And the 40th-day events are usually the largest and most important.

Neda is already being hailed as a martyr, a second important concept in Shi'ism. With the reported deaths of 19 people on June 20, martyrdom provides a potent force that could further deepen public anger at Iran's regime.

Today, Senator McCain paid tribute to Neda on the Senate floor, joining the thousands of tributes already up on the web. But we should also pay tribute to those who are helping to document these atrocities; as one Iranian protestor wrote today on (via HuffPo and Nico's excellent liveblogging):

i wanted to take photos of the milit presence, but it was way too scary. honestly people who manage to record or take photos are incredibly shoja (brave).