Sunday, March 19, 2006

Police Blocks Traditional Fire Celebration

Elham Doustar, Rooz Online:
Every year, on the last Tuesday of winter, Iranians gather outside to celebrate Chaharshanbe Soori (Wednesday Feast) when they jump over heaps of fire to cleanse themselves and prepare for the new Iranian year that begins on the first day of spring. It is a celebration that dates back to thousands of years, well before Iran became Islamic. This year, the government announced that it was taking steps to ensure that no unpleasant incidents took place. The police, intelligence agents and judiciary officials as well as provincial authorities were put on alert to take serious action against those they called "hooligans and thugs". Tehran's prosecutor had ordered to arrest and imprison Chaharshanbe Soori participants for two weeks. Qom’s prosecutor has demanded filming the participants to cleanse the city from such individuals.

Twenty municipalities in Tehran were assigned to hold the "Welcoming Spring" celebrations, a name that government authorities have suggested to replace traditional Chaharshanbe Souri. While Iranians awaited the official announcement of the locations, local news agencies wired unexpected and contradictory news about the plans of the police to ban motorbike traffic in the streets on Tuesday.

Initially it appeared that officials had decided to accept yet control the event, arresting those that wished to disrupt it. But later, it seems a change of heart had taken place and the goal was to prevent or contain the event. According to Fars news agency, Tehran's Revolutionary Court and Public Prosecutor issued a statement which claimed that some individuals had plans to or actually engaged in using the occasion to distribute arsenal, explosive materials and commit criminal activities such as drinking alcohol, distributing drugs, harassing families, etc. This has been interpreted as a pretext to arrest and round up merry goers participating in the fire jumping event. The statement emphasizes threats and consequences more than the right of people to express their feelings and participate in the event.

So one wonders why has such a large armed force (the Iranian police, military, Basij volunteer force and other law enforcement agents) been mobilized to watch out for just a few “thugs” and “hooligans”? The answer may lie in their true but unexpressed intention of containing the whole event.