Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ban on Media Coverage of Azerbaijan Unrest

Rooz Online:
The recent unrest in the Turkish-populated Iranian cities protesting the publication of a cartoon in the government daily Iran continues. Following the mass demonstrations of Azeris in this regard, a large number of protestors were arrested. Then many were released after brief interrogations by intelligence agencies. Some local sources report that the protestors' slogans in the towns of Urumieh and Ardebil had been unprecedented during the past quarter of a century.

Naghdeh is the last town where clashes and anger heightened. Eight hours of demonstrations and confrontation with the police led to arson attacks on cars, government offices and banks. Protests grew in size when the police started firing live bullets.

Based on reports of the recent days, demonstrators now have shifted their focus from protesting against the newspaper that carried the insulting cartoon (Iran) to police brutality, calling for the resignation of local officials and police officers. READ MORE

In the Azeri towns of Ardebil, Urumieh, Naghdeh and Meshkinshahr the protest have led to physical clashes and injuries. Offices of the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance were among the government building that were demolished by angry protestors who view this government department to be a source of insults and humiliation against the Turks.

In an interview with BBC’s Persian service, Massoud Behnoud said that Iran's Supreme National Security Council has released a statement which banned the press from publishing news on the Azeri unrest. He said that the ban even included pro-government publications. Reports published in hardline dailies such as Keyhan which accused Azerbaijani protestors of being foreign agents ignited further protests and feelings against officials.

According to reports, two relatives of Jalil Abedi, the student who was killed in the unrest last Thursday in Meshkinshahr told BBC Persian service on Friday that he was killed by a bullet in his head during the violence of a demonstration in the town.

Local officials and especially military forces have been cautious during recent days in their statements and have avoided mentioning the insulting cartoon that was published in the newspaper Iran. They merely stress that the enemy will not be able to separate and break up the Iranian ethnic composition. In a seminar last held by the Strategic Research Center on the issue of nationalities in Iran, Hashemi Rafsanjani spoke of weak government preparations and responses to the recent unrest. In a related news story, President Ahmadinejad who met with members of Isargaran group that is credited with tilting the presidential race in his favor last year, said, “The attempts of enemies to disintegrate the country and create divisions within it will fail because Iranians have never had ethnic differences among each other.”