In February, tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets of cities across Iran in support of pro-democracy demonstrations occurring elsewhere in the Middle East. Their numbers and conviction gave the lie to observers who had claimed that Iran's own democracy movement, which brought millions into the street in 2009, had petered out, a victim of either apathy or of the brutal repression visited on dissidents by the Iranian government.
Certainly that repression has continued. Despite praising demonstrators in other countries in the region, Iranian officials deployed thousands of security forces in Tehran and other cities in anticipation of the February demonstrations. And when they occurred, peaceful protesters were beaten with truncheons, fired upon with tear gas that burned for days; hundreds were arrested; at least three were killed. In addition, the two opposition leaders who had called for the show of solidarity with pro-democracy protesters in other mid-east countries, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, were put under house arrest and cut off from contact with their countrymen.
Yet still the Iranian people defied repression and came out to demonstrate on behalf of democracy and freedom. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed their courage. In a statement she said, "We have witnessed the bravery of thousands of Iranians who once again took to the streets to exercise their fundamental rights to peaceful assembly and expression. It has been made clear to the world that Iran denies its citizens the same fundamental rights it continues to applaud elsewhere in the Middle East."
She also pointed out that the crackdown by the Iranian government continues off the streets as well: "The regime's leaders have targeted human rights defenders and political activists, and authorities have recently rounded-up ex-government officials and their families; former members of parliament, clerics and their children; student leaders and their professors, as well as journalists and bloggers. They also continue to deny their citizens access to information by jamming satellite transmissions and blocking internet sites."
Secretary of State Clinton called on the Iranian government to release all political prisoners as well as persecuted members of Iran's religious and ethnic minorities. She noted that "the steady deterioration in human rights conditions in Iran has obliged the international community to speak out time and time again. ... The United States," she said, "joins the international community in affirming the universal rights to which all men and women -- in Iran and around the world – are entitled."