Iranian Shoppers Riot Against Modesty Police
It happens every day on the streets of Tehran: a police squad grabbed a young woman for dressing immodestly. But this time, the young woman fought back, and a crowd defended her and attacked the police. Thanks to cell phone video, the internet, and brave Iranian citizen reporters, Ardeshir Arian is able to tell the story.
February 26, 2008 - 12:30 am
The Iranian regime does its best to keep a tight rein on news outlets, but new media — cell phone video, YouTube, and the countless number of blogs and news forums in Farsi — means that when large-scale protests against the regime occur in public they are impossible to completely conceal.
This is the story they tell: at approximately 7 pm on Saturday, February 23, the Ershad patrol, or modesty police assigned to enforce clothing regulations, accosted and attempted to arrest a young woman at Goldis Shopping Mall, located in western Tehran, presumably because her dress was not sufficiently modest.
In recent weeks, the police squads charged with enforcing modesty have become more rigorous in their enforcement, with thousands of women detained, questioned, and arrested for violating hijab standards.
Instead of meekly submitting to her fate, the woman fought back. A young man — it is unclear whether he was accompanying her — came to her defense and joined her in fighting the police. In an attempt to subdue — and humiliate him — the police grabbed the young man and threw him into the garbage can nearby.
That was when the large crowd, predominately made up of young people, rose up against the police and attempted to liberate the young woman themselves. Faced with a full-blown riot — complete with angry crowds with garbage cans being set on fire — the frightened police jumped into the van and fled the scene, except for one unfortunate officer who was left behind. The policeman was reportedly attacked and beaten by the mob.
The police returned, reinforced by a full-fledged anti-riot unit. To gain control of the situation, members of the unit fired warning shots into the air and threatened to fire directly into the crowd. There were reports of between 10-15 arrests.
The incident was documented by a cell phone video that was uploaded to YouTube. While the quality of the video is extremely poor, the Farsi narration and background voices were intelligible and translatable.
Among the calls coming from the angry crowd after the police were first driven away:
“You have put us on since 1979 until now,” the crowd cheered after repeating the slogan multiple times.
Another slogan was chanted repeatedly and accompanied by boos: “We do not want the Islamic regime.”
The crowd continuously boos and heckles the police: “A revolution is happening.” When a police vehicle approaches, there is a call: “Look, this guy is entangled too.” “He is going the wrong way.” “What the hell are you going to do?” “How many people do you think you can kill?”
Then, there are cries of “death to the police.”
On the video, the voice of an individual — a citizen reporter — narrates: “They (police) arrested a girl and put her in the van, people rushed to free her from the police custody. The arresting officer let go of her and they started attacking him. The van belonging to the agents left the scene, not wanting to be hit by the people and left that officer behind. People ambushed him as he was running away from them and beat him up badly.”
In a report on the event that appeared on the Iran Press Service web site, student web sites are quoted as saying that “to disperse the angry mob, heavy police and anti-riot units that arrived fired into the air but were met with a crowd of more than 300 people, now chanting slogans against the regime and its leaders, mostly Ayatollah Ali Khameni and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, chanting ‘We don’t want dictatorship,’ ‘We don’t want emergency and martial law.’”
The story comes on the heels of reports of student uprisings. As with this story, the reports are nowhere to be seen in the official Iranian press or the Western media — but by those who are determined that stories of resistance are somehow told.