(New York) - Iran's paramilitary Basij are carrying out brutal nighttime raids, destroying property in private homes and beating civilians in an attempt to stop nightly protest chants, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch also said the Iranian authorities are confiscating satellite dishes from private homes to prevent citizens from seeing foreign news.
"While most of the world's attention is focused on the beatings in the streets of Iran during the day, the Basijis are carrying out brutal raids on people's apartments during the night," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Witnesses are telling us that the Basijis are trashing entire streets and even neighborhoods as well as individual homes trying to stop the nightly rooftop protest chants."
Since the onset of protests against the disputed presidential election results on June 12, 2009, residents throughout Tehran and in other cities in Iran have carried out nightly rooftop protest chants of "God is Great" (Allahu Akbar) and other similar slogans.
The nighttime shouting of such slogans at designated hours is a powerful form of protest in Iran, as it was one of the emblematic forms of protests during the Iranian revolution 30 years ago, which toppled the ruling Pahlavi monarchy and led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Opposition leaders had asked their supporters to chant these slogans as a form of peaceful protest. With the increasingly severe crackdown on the current street protests in Iran appearing to make large-scale daytime protests impossible, the nightly chanting has become one of the few remaining forms of mass public protests against the disputed results of the June 12 presidential election.
A middle-aged resident from Vanak neighborhood gave Human Rights Watch an overview of his participation each day in the protests. He explained that by June 22, virtually the only form of protest still available to him was to shout slogans from his rooftop at night. But then the Basiji came to attack his neighborhood.
"On June 22, while we were shouting ‘Allahu Akbar' from the rooftops, the only form of protests we could still undertake, the Basiji entered our neighborhood and started firing live rounds into the air, in the direction of the buildings from which they believe the shouting of ‘Allahu Akbar' is coming from. I didn't see any rounds hitting our buildings. Shortly thereafter, my cousin arrived at our apartment. He was very shaken. The Basijis had entered their house in Yousef Abad neighborhood, and they had destroyed their doors and destroyed cars in the street.
"There are many things happening that aren't being reported [in the media]. In every neighborhood of Tehran, people are talking about how the Basijis and other security services are coming into their houses and are terrorizing people for shouting ‘Allahu Akbar' from the rooftops, and for congregating."
A second witness, a woman from the affluent Velenjak neighborhood in northern Tehran, gave a similar account of Basiji attacks in her neighborhood on the night of June 23:
"Last night [June 23], the Basijis entered our neighborhood to intimidate those who were shouting ‘Allahu Akbar' from their rooftops. They started kicking down doors, and when they couldn't succeed, they would climb over the garden walls and open the interior doors. When they entered the homes, they beat the residents. The neighbors took to cursing the Basijis and throwing stones at them to divert them from beating the residents, but then the Basijis attacked those neighbors' houses and tried to enter them."
A third witness told Human Rights Watch how he had witnessed Basijis attacking private homes where they believed protesters had fled to escape attack:
"In my neighborhood, downtown Tehran, there were protesters who escaped into people's homes when the Basijis chased them. The Basijis who were chasing them then knocked harshly on the doors. The residents were too afraid to open the doors. Then the Basijis sprayed a mark on the door with spray paint. A few minutes later, they came back and attacked the marked houses, breaking down the doors and entering them. They beat the owners, and broke the windows in the house and of their cars."
Human Rights Watch has collected similar accounts of violent nighttime raids by the Basij and other security forces in neighborhoods throughout Tehran, including Niavaran, Farmaneih, Saadat Abad, Shahrak Gharb, and Vanak Square.
The Basiji (Nirooye Moghavemate Basij, the Resistance Mobilization Force) is a volunteer paramilitary force of men and women, "a large people's militia," created by Ayatollah Khomeini in November 1979 to advance the aims of the Islamic Revolution. The Basijis are under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and have branches throughout Iran, including in many social institutions such as schools, universities, mosques, and government offices. They engage in a wide range of activities, but one of their core duties is to help maintain law and order, repress dissent, and enforce their conservative interpretation of Islamic codes of dress and behavior. During times of protests, they frequently beat and intimidate protesters.
Security agents are also forcing residents in Tehran to take down their satellite dishes, which allow them to view foreign media, one of the few sources of uncensored information in the face of the severe government restrictions on domestic media in Iran. According to a reliable source in Tehran, on June 24, uniformed police officers forced residents in the Niavaran and Dorous neighborhoods of Tehran to take down their satellite receiving dishes, and returned later to confiscate many of the satellite dishes. In addition to placing severe restrictions on access to internet-based news providers, Iran is also trying to jam the signals of foreign news media that broadcast into Iran.
A resident from the Saadat Abad neighborhood of Tehran described a police raid to Human Rights Watch:
"Five policemen knocked on the door of our apartment building. People went to open the door and asked them what they wanted. The police said they wanted to come and destroy the satellite dishes on the rooftop. The landlord asked them if they had any permission documents to do this. The policemen replied that there was no need for any documents because the stairs and the rooftops aren't private property; they are common (shared) property. Then they threatened the landlord, ‘If you want us to go get permission documents, we'll come back later with them, but then we will also search the apartments as well.' They were trying to intimidate the landlord, so he let them in. Then they went to the rooftop and threw the dishes into the street. The landlord told me they behaved so harshly with him there was no room to complain."
"After clamping down on the local media and expelling foreign correspondents, Iran's security forces are now trying to shut down people's access to foreign news," said Whitson. "Clearly, they don't want their own citizens to know what is actually happening inside Iran today."
Human Rights Watch called upon the authorities to ensure that everyone whose property had been destroyed by security forces received compensation in full.
To view stark footage of what appear to be Basiji night raids, please visit the following:
Note: These videos are consistent with what Human Rights Watch has documented in other cases. While Human Rights Watch believes that the videos are reliable, it cannot independently verify them at this time.