Green flags and banners fly as a crowd of 2,000 or so demonstrators chant anti-Iranian regime slogans. Many pump their fists into the air, screaming in Persian: “Guns and tanks are of no use to you any more because the people have now spoken.” It’s a chant followed by: “Ahmadinejad, you’re a murderer.”
From the rooftop of the Iranian Embassy in London an unmanned video camera records the faces of the angry crowd gathered in Knightsbridge, emboldened by their fury over what they believe was a rigged election.
A Metropolitan police officer who has been patrolling the demonstrations since they began three days after the close of polls in mid June, told The Times: “They’re filming quite a lot. Any intelligent person would assume they’re sending the footage back to Iran.” The tactic seems all the more disturbing as Nazenin Ansari, the diplomatic editor of Kayhan, a Persian weekly newspaper in London, says she has been investigating claims that a number of British Iranians have “disappeared” since the election.
“I have heard of some cases of people travelling from London into Tehran who have simply disappeared from the airport,” she said. “And I know of many cases of people who were planning to go and have decided not to any more. Because they have been in the demonstrations, there’s a real fear of photos being taken and being used against them.”
The swelling opposition towards the Ahmadinejad administration has politicised a once predominantly apolitical British Iranian community that feared expressing its dissent publicly.
Many activists accuse the regime of spying by gathering footage to punish and intimidate people should they choose to visit their homeland. Potkin Azarmehr, an Iranian activist and blogger, said that he was bouyed by the rapidly growing involvement of the Iranian population in Britain, which stands between 53,000 and 73,000, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
“One of the tangible things from all these demos is people have gotten to know each other and gotten closer to each other,” he said. “We’re united by a common goal, a common dream to change the misperception the world has of Iranians, because not all Iranians want to be represented by Ahmadinejad and his regime.”
Vahid Sadeghi Shirazi, a former political prisoner in Iran and one of the main demonstration organisers in London, said: “We are the voice of the Iranian people who are not allowed to speak up at the moment.” But a fear of the Iranian regime remains, as evidenced at Thursday’s rally – which marked the tenth anniversary of the student uprising against the Islamic revolution – in which many demonstrators disguised their faces with sunglasses, hats, wigs and paint.
Local activists are developing fresh ways of dodging the regime’s dissent radar by developing secret communication methods with their counterparts back home. Their greatest weapon has been cyberspace, despite the Iranian Government’s attempt to monitor websites and personal e-mails.
The movement was brought to life by the backing given to Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s main rival in the June 12 election. A movement that has met with violence, which, the regime’s opposition claims, has left more than 250 people dead. The regime is accused of playing down this figure by saying that only 20 deaths have been recorded.
The movement has also left hundreds of activists and bystanders who found themselves in wrong place at the wrong time behind bars.
Marayam, 32, a student from East London, spent four days in a police cell in Tehran during a holiday to visit her family. Her whereabouts became unknown the moment she was taken into custody. “They [police] told my parents they had never heard my name and categorically denied that I was in their custody,” Maryam, who was released without charge, said. The maths student returned to London recently.