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Defiant Anti-Government Protesters Clash with Police in Iran
Aired June 20, 2009 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(SCREAMING, EXPLOSIONS AND SIRENS)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: As we said, it's disturbing to hear. You can't see much here. But I want to bring in now Badi Badiozamani. He's an Iran expert, and he joins us now.
What is happening in this video?
BADI BADIOZAMANI, IRAN EXPERT, SCHOLAR: It appears that a lady first called saying that they are coming, they are coming. And then the same voice or someone else close to her voice, says "They're coming from the terrace. They're coming from the balcony." And then you hear a knock on the door, an ominous knock on the door. And then, she starts screaming again, saying, "Get out. Get out. Oh, God, oh, God, get out."
LEMON: And you also hear, too, it appears to be two men there speaking in the video. What are they saying?
BADIOZAMANI: After that, it appears that these two men are the ones who are doing the recording. And if you notice, they pulled the curtain just a little bit and then you can see a little bit, a silhouette out there. And then one of them says, you hear the alarms going off. And he says they are smashing the car's windows. And that's when the car alarms go off.
LEMON: Start to go off.
OK, so take us -- we're hearing an echo, and it sounds like an echo. And it sounds like it's happening maybe more than one home.
Describe the conditions there. Are these apartment buildings? Are these private homes? What is it in the area, or what makes up most of Tehran?
BADIOZAMANI: It's amazing. We have received some reports that they have been raiding, attacking apartment complexes in the northern part of Iran in Vilinjak (ph) and other areas.
But then we received this video clip, and it appears that these two gentlemen are in one apartment and it's the next apartment that everything is happening. LEMON: OK. So I want -- and I want to ask you about that, because some are saying, and these are just reports that we're hearing, that this may be the place raiding apartments.
If so, what's going to happen to these people?
BADIOZAMANI: If that's the case, they usually grab them, beat them up, take them away. And I was reading another report today, again, unconfirmed, that the parents of about 400 people, 400 youngsters, including the students, have gone to the revolutionary court, in front of the revolutionary court today, and asking for some news about their children. And they were told, go and come back a month from now.
LEMON: Yes. And they're concerned about their children who are injured. And we're also getting, as we're saying, we're getting this video in and we're hearing here what appears -- we're calling it a home invasion. That's all we can tell for now until we get further information from our sources and from our producers on the ground. But also hearing that they're afraid for their children.
LEMON: But they're also afraid for their lives as well.
LEMON: And they're not sure exactly where this is going to go, if this is indeed happening, and how shall we put this, and the state knows what's going on.
BADIOZAMANI: Yes. We received -- well, we asked for some copyright from a photographer from Tehran, who had sent some pictures. His name was there. We asked him, are you sure you want your name on the pictures? And his response, he wrote a very poetic response, "I love my job more than my wife -- my life."
I'm sorry, I have been here at the studio for 15 hours.
LEMON: We certainly understand. Take your time.
BADIOZAMANI: And I like reporting, sending information more than I like my life. So it doesn't matter to me.
LEMON: They're ready to step up and face the consequences of whatever.
LEMON: Yes. Badi Badiozamani, as he said, he has been here with us all day. And he has been guiding us through this. He speaks Farsi. Obviously, he's an Iran expert. And he is going through this video.
We have been listening to this video, and it is just amazing to hear, frightening many people here in the NEWSROOM, and it's also coming across the social networking sites and people are saying that it's frightening.
Thank you very much.
BADIOZAMANI: My pleasure.
LEMON: Stand by because we may need you in just a little bit.
We're going to move on here. And we have more information to tell you. Some new things in to CNN, including where is Mousavi today? Where is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today?
We heard from at least one of those. We're back in a moment.
LEMON: "Iran's ruling system is going to the slaughterhouse." That is a direct quote from a blunt new posting tonight on the "Facebook" page of Mir Hossein Mousavi. Iran's top opposition candidate.
Mousavi says the people are outraged over the election, which he claims was rigged in favor of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mousavi wants a new election to be overseen by an independent council. Well, the posting and the protest blatantly defy Iran's supreme leader, who declared Ahmadinejad the winner and warned protesters to stay off the streets. And tonight, as the rhetoric and the violence heat up, the death toll rises.
Tehran hospital sources say at least 19 people have been killed today. Unconfirmed reports put the total death toll as high as 150 over the past week of protests.
Christiane Amanpour is our chief international correspondent.
Christiane, we have seen the video. And we have been bombarded with reports of police raids throughout Iran tonight. The government -- they are claiming that the streets are returning to calm. But that doesn't appear to be the case here.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's hard to tell. Generally, overnight, it has been calm. It's hard to tell how this is going to play out. And what's more, it's hard to tell exactly what the facts are. Those reports of deaths, unconfirmed. The reports of what Mousavi has allegedly got on his Web site are unconfirmed. And this is what's really causing a huge amount of confusion. Certainly, it's clear that people went out and defied the ultimatum, the line in the sand put down by Ayatollah Khamenei yesterday at Friday prayers.
And this is something that has changed the dynamic for the moment. The real question will be whether they continue to come out and in what numbers. But also, whether the regime has the stomach for a major crackdown.
Don? LEMON: The stomach for a major crackdown, but also, do the protesters really have the -- how long can they continue this? Obviously, they want some sort of change. They said they want the change, Christiane, from the inside. How long can they keep this up, though? That's the question.
AMANPOUR: But that's the big question. And, so far, people were quite dubious as to whether people would come out onto the streets today after that unprecedented intervention by the Supreme leader Ali Khamenei. And it's clear that many, many fewer people came out. There were hundreds of thousands of people in the rallies over the last week and after the elections. And even before the elections, the pre-election rallies.
What happened today was less, but nonetheless very significant because of the fact that it did happen, even in however many numbers it did happen. And we still, you know, look to find some verification for just how large those protests were.
There was always going to be, according to analysts, a group of people who would try to defy and go out on the streets. And we've certainly seen that. Again, it's going to be really important to monitor tomorrow, the next day and the next day to see whether this keeps up and how both sides react.
LEMON: Exactly. Where it goes.
Christiane Amanpour is our chief international correspondent.
Thank you, Christiane.
LEMON: And I want to remind you that Christiane followed the Iranian election all the way from the campaigning to the vote to the protest. She shares her insight on a CNN special "AMANPOUR REPORTS FROM THE STREETS OF IRAN," that's tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.
We're following breaking news here on CNN. The growing protests over the Iranian presidential election, really the disputed Iranian presidential election and with Iran's government placing so many restrictions on reporters getting information out of the area is extremely difficult.
You saw the video that we had at the top of the show. And it was disturbing, but, again, we don't know exactly the circumstances, what the exact circumstances surrounding that.
So I want to bring in Colleen McEdwards.
Excuse me, Colleen.
She is monitoring the social networking sites, the satellite feeds and the other sources from our Iran desk.
What are you seeing? And have you heard anything, first of all, about the video that we played at the top of the show.
Have you heard anything about that video?
COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Nothing yet at this point. As you say, I mean, we really have to go with what we get off the social networking sites, and our own -- you know, our own journalistic background and expertise here on the international desk to try to determine what is authentic and what is worth reporting. And we got a ton of new stuff to walk you through here, Don.
So I want to bring you right over here to our screen. I want to start by showing you the Facebook page of the opposition candidate Mousavi. Where he is now quoted as saying that Iran's ruling system is going to the slaughterhouse because of this election.
And again, we haven't actually seen or heard from him in a few days. We need to be cautious about this, but that is a statement that's attributed to him, that is posted right now on his Facebook page.
Some new video to show you as well. This is showing what happened earlier in Tehran, where you can really see the streets quite literally on fire here. Smoke billowing, flames in that area as a crowd gathers around. More video from YouTube.
Again, the streets of Tehran and really showing -- let me see if I can get this to play here. This one is a little bit stubborn. There we go. Very smoky streets, appearing to be later in the day perhaps. A little bit before evening time. Smoke-filled streets of Tehran.
Let's rewind a little bit because I got some other video I want to show you from before the demonstrations took place. And this is a video that basically shows the police come standing by calmly, waiting for the protesters to arrive. They knew they were coming. They knew they were walking along routes that were historic, back to '79, knew where, if the protesters were coming, where they would be.
And then some time later, this video, disturbing video to show you what happens once the protests get going. The clashes that took place. Let's just listen to this.
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(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCEDWARDS: Absolute chaos. You hear the screams of people there as protesters clash with police. It is early morning hours now in Iran. Sources have told us that police were going door-to-door. That there has been sporadic violence through the night again. We don't have that confirmed. But it is clear, Don, that we are in very, very volatile, new territory in all of this.
LEMON: Colleen McEdwards, great way of putting it. Thank you, Colleen. Stand by because we will be going back to you as well.
Meantime, I want to bring in our Josh Levs, whose been monitoring the moment-by-moment things that are happening on Twitter.
Josh, as we say, minute-by-minute, but moment-by-moment, they keep updating and they keep giving us information on what's going on over there.
JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, Don, you know that this evening, you and I talked about this before the show.
This evening something new has happened on twitter. One of the hot topics on Twitter and the whole Twitter universe tonight is the name of a girl who Twitter say is the one featured in a video.
I'm going to show you a clip now. This is disturbing. I want you to know that. And we have blurred out her face out of respect. But this is possibly the most-seen piece of video out of Iran in the world today. And on Facebook, along with this, there was posted a story that said that she had been a bystander at a protest. And that a member of the Basij, which is the paramilitary that answers to the government, had shot her.
We, as we have been emphasizing here, we cannot confirm the situation nor her name. However, she is known as Neda on Twitter. Many people saying that was her name.
OK. We'll ignore some of these tweets now. Let's show you a lot of people tweeting about her. And this is one of the first ones you're seeing her. Her name was Neda. It means "the voice." Rest in peace. You're heard loud and clear.
And there's another one here. It's just come through. We are grabbing the latest ones minute-by-minute sharing them with you here. It's RT, which is reference to a re-tweet, encouraging people to keep sending it to their tweeter followers.
"On 9/11, the world said we were all Americans. Tonight, we're all Iranian."
Now, in addition to all of this that we're reading about her and what people are saying about her, people also weighing in on all sides of this conflict. Well, really, in many cases in support of the protesters.
And let's take a look at two more here. There you go.
"RT, remove all street signs so shift enforcers will lose orientation."
These are the kinds of things we're seeing a lot of on Twitter. Just grabbed that one off of twitter. It's people trying to send ideas to those who are in Iran, saying if you want to avoid security forces, here's some things to do.
And we have one more here. Set your location to Iran or Tehran. Make it harder to track real Iranian twitterers. We, here, at CNN, by the way, the reason you're seeing it this way without some twitterers' name, is that we are protecting the names of people who are inside Iran. In some cases, we can't know if they're really inside Iran, but we are following English and Farsi tweets, and translating them when necessary.
So, Don, these are the kinds of things we're seeing. I want to show everyone a graphic where you can reach us, where you can reach me tonight, because we're camped out here and we're following lots of stuff on Twitter.
If there's something on Twitter you think is particularly important, there's my page right there, twitter.com/joshlevscnn. One word. Basically, works the same way for all of us, Don Lemon as well.
And we're going to keep following this. And pretty much before I pop on air, we grab things that have come on literally within seconds, grab them and put them into a format that you can see them, share them with you on air. Because the Twitter universe, I will tell you, is playing an historic and kind of amazing role in what's been going on in Iran.
LEMON: Yes. I got a lot of things about her on Facebook as well, Josh. And you and I we're talking about it right after the show, when I got a tweet saying, you know, what her name was, and we didn't say it on the air.
LEVS: Right. At the time we didn't say -- yes.
LEMON: We didn't say because we wanted to check it out. And someone said to me, and I showed it to you, they said, would you say her name out of respect. And I said a tweet back saying, we can't say her name out of respect for the family.
But Josh, I just want to show you, just since you have been on, you can bring the page up, someone said, "I have a new outlook on life -- new outlook in life, and Neda, that girl, man, pray for her. I thought I was tough, but the hood seems like a blessing now."
And then someone else says her name is Neda. She is 16. And they keep sending information about her. Again, that she is -- sadly that she died, and that her name means voice. So it's all coming in tonight.
And Josh --
LEVS: If we can just say, because of social networking in this world, she is -- no matter what exactly led to that situation, that tragedy, she is right now a symbol for many people.
LEMON: Josh, we appreciate what you're doing. We're going to check back with you in just a couple moments.
Thank you very much.
Meantime, we want to tell you about the White House reaction to the story. President Barack Obama has released a statement about the violence in Iran, but critics say he has done little else.
The president says, "We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people."
Mr. Obama did make time -- to take sometime with his daughter Sasha and Malia to go to an ice cream parlor in Alexandria, Virginia today. Republican critics say the president has failed to show strong enough support for the Iranian protesters.
We are following live developments. What's happening in Iran, and what we are hearing as reported home invasions going on.
We are checking on all of the information and the new video that's coming in. That disturbing new video that's into CNN, we're going to play it for you again in just moments.
And later, a unique perspective of Iran's feared parliamentary unit.
LEMON: OK. You know what, our next guest says the crackdown in Iran has come at a high cost for the Islamic regime and a loss of public support.
Fawaz Gerges is a professor of Middle Eastern Studies and International Affairs at Sir Lawrence College. He joins us now tonight from Beirut.
Thank you, sir.
I'm not sure if you saw the video or heard the video at the top of our show, which are these alleged home invasions.
Can you speak to that?
FAWAZ GERGES, PROFESSOR OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, SIR LAWRENCE COLLEGE: Well, as you know, there is no turning back. I think both sides have escalated their rhetoric and actions. And I think in particular, the conservative ruling Mullahs have decided to go all the way to suppress the dissident movement. I think it will get uglier and bloodier by the hour. I think you're going to see a major show of force on the part of the conservative ruling Mullah. I think you're going to see a rash of major oppositional leaders and heavy crackdown against dissidents all over Iran. I think we are witnessing the beginning of a very, very dangerous moment in Iranians contemporary history.
LEMON: And Mr. Gerges, you know, talk to me about the response of the supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei and the demonstrations.
Do you think that they were caught off guard by all of this?
GERGES: No, I don't think so. I think, basically, initially, the ruling conservative Mullahs, in particular the most powerful man, the supreme leader, thought that basically Mousavi and the oppositional movement will protest for a day or so, and then they'll give up. They realized that the oppositional movement, the dissident movement, has gained momentum, it has gained confidence, it has gained assertiveness, and it has gained more followers. It's now broadly- based. And now, yes, they are sweating. They are feeling the heat. And this is why, I think, the supreme leader's decision to basically side with Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard. It presents a turning point in this particular crisis. A turning point basically against the oppositional leaders.
I mean, listen to what the supreme leader said. He said he will hold accountable, the leaders of the oppositional movement, that is Mousavi. Meaning, he is either will be arrested, or actually jailed, or even killed for that matter.
And listen to what Mousavi, the leader of the oppositional movement, has said. He said he was ready for martyrdom. He said he's not against the Islamic republic. He is against the lies and the distortions by the conservative ruling Mullahs. And that's why I believed that lines have basically have been crossed in Iran. We are really witnessing the beginning of something big in Iran.
And I would go further and say even if the hardliners within the ruling Mullahs succeed in cracking down against the oppositional movement, we are witnessing the beginning, not the end of the reformist movement. And I think what the ruling Mullahs are doing basically is undermining the very legitimacy, the very legitimacy and authority of the regime in the eyes of the majority of the population and in the eyes of the world as well.
LEMON: Fawaz Gerges is a professor of Middle Eastern Studies and International Affairs at Sir Lawrence College. He is joining us from Beirut tonight.
Thank you very much, sir.
We have some terrifying video coming out of Iran. We are told that it is reported home invasions. We are trying to get the information behind this video but you will see it again in its entirety on CNN.
LEMON: New images into CNN tonight. And I want to warn you, they are terrifying. The amateur video shows the uncertainty, the fear and the chaos gripping Iran right now, as protest over the hotly disputed presidential election heat up.
In the pitch black of night, you hear children, men, women, screaming out in what appears to be a home invasion. It is hard to see, but all you have to do is listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(PEOPLE SCREAMING and SIRENS)
(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: Reports of home invasions in Iran tonight. I want to update you now in the latest headlines coming out of Iran. Iran's ruling system is going
I want to update you now on the latest headlines coming out of Iran. Iran's ruling system is going to the slaughterhouse. That is a quote from a blunt new posting tonight on the Facebook page of Mir Hossein Mousavi, Iran's top opposition candidate.
Mousavi says the people are outraged over the election, which he claims was rigged in favor of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mousavi wants a new election to be overseen by an independent council, while the posting and the protest blatantly defy Iran's supreme leader, who declared Ahmadinejad the winner and warned protesters to stay off the streets.
And tonight as the rhetoric and the violence heat up, the death toll is also rising. Tehran hospital sources say at least 19 people have been killed today. And unconfirmed reports put the total death toll as high as 150 over the past week of protests.
And some quick facts about the city of Tehran, just so you know how big it is and what goes on there. It is the capital of Iran and the largest city in the Middle East. It is the 18th largest city in the world, with a population of around 8 million, similar to Manhattan.
Now, with Iran's government placing so many restrictions on reporters, getting information out is very difficult. CNN's Colleen McEdwards is monitoring social networking sites, the satellite feeds and all of our sources. She's at our Iran desk tonight.
And really the thing that is standing out on this story is the importance, Colleen, of the social networks and the role that they're playing in getting this information out to the world.
COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. I mean, where would we be without them in a case like this, Don? I mean, you know how difficult it would be to report on this if we didn't have the access to the video that people are posting on places like YouTube and Facebook, or the kinds of information that we're getting on applications like Twitter that really, as we've been discussing here on the international desk all the night, are giving people a voice in this.
And, you know, you even start to notice on the postings that we've look at here on all of our different resources, people are actually posting video with the kind of information that we know we journalists need -- dates, times, locations, information that they know will help us authenticate their video and will help tell us what it is we're looking at.
It's not a substitute for journalism. I'm not advocating it as that. But in this particular case, it is a vital resource for us to get pictures to you and for the people of Iran to have a voice that would not otherwise be heard. If it weren't for these sites right now, Don, we would be stuck covering this, as you know, with what, putting up a map, perhaps if we were lucky, maybe someone on the phone, if we were lucky to get through the jammed phone lines. And you know, you and I, as people in the studio and at the Iran desk, would be vamping over nothing, trying to make sense of this.
LEMON: Absolutely. Because, as we have been saying, Colleen, we are severely restricted. That is what the government is saying. And also we don't want to put people in harm's way by getting out there and then defying the government. That doesn't do any good in this situation. It only adds fuel to the fire.
MCEDWARDS: That's right. We're being very careful to try to verify what we can.
MCEDWARDS: That disturbing video that you just showed. I mean, we know where it came from. We have done what we need to do to verify it. The people who are filing this kind of video are happy to get that out.
And we're using all of our expertise here to look at the video that's coming in, look for signs of whether it's today or yesterday, using our Farsi speakers to listen to the narration on this video. And really trying to make sure that we're putting to air what we think we're putting to air and using this in a journalistically responsible way as well
LEMON: Colleen, thank you so much. You know, we're poring over what's going on, on Twitter as well. And for a minute-by-minute Iran watch, we go to CNN's Josh Levs.
Josh, more tweets, hundreds of them, since we last spoke just moments ago.
JOHN LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And you and I were speaking earlier about how many tweets there are about this woman Neda. I guess they're pronouncing it Neda, who, according to Twitter, is just the woman seen in that video that so many of us have seen -- that gruesome video.
Well, I was taking at look at Twitter right after we spoke. They're literally coming in, as you were just saying, many by the second. Let's zoom into this computer behind me. I just want you to get the basic idea here.
This one is saying, "Light a candle for Neda." And when you see pound or something -- pound followed by letters on Twitter, it means there's a hashtag. Basically, lots of people writing about the same thing.
This one came in 20 seconds ago about her. This one less than 20 seconds ago. Same thing, less than 20 seconds ago. They're all just banging through here. "Neda is our sister. We are all one. Remember Neda. Free Iran." RT, encouraging people to re-tweet this one. "Please light a candle for her and place it in your window. She must not be forgotten."
I also want to show you a couple here that apparently from stateside, Don. "Praying for a peaceful morning in Iran as I go to bed in the U.S.A."
Another one here, "It's not about the election anymore. It's about freedom. I bleed green." And green is a reference to Mousavi's supporters.
"Sending respect to the people of Iran. It's an honor just to hear your story."
And finally, we've been encouraging you to write to us. These were sent to me here at joshlevscnn. "Protesters in Iran need a leader that would unite them. They need to have the support of the Basiji or Revolutionary Guard."
Finally, one down here saying that the Ayatollah Khamenei could fix this on Friday -- could have fixed this on Friday, but did not. And now people are killed, it says, and it's too late to fix things.
Let's show this graphic so that you can see how you can weigh in. We're going to keep following your tweets all night long. We have a full screen for you that will show you how to weigh in. There you go. My page is twitter.com/joshlevscnn.
I want to show you -- them this way this time, just so you can see how quickly they're coming in, as Don keeps saying, by the moment. Because every time we refresh our screens, we're getting a lot more. And I'll repeat what I say each time. Some information sent out by twitters we cannot authenticate, cannot confirm. But we can tell you, Twitter is playing an historic role here. So many people turning to it, Don, it's critical that we keep an eye on it.
LEMON: Yes. Twitter, I mean, is far and above where we're getting a lot of the information. But also there's, you know, Facebook and MySpace. And we don't want to forget about our iReports because our iReporters have given us some very pivotal information, critical information, I should say, on all of this, Josh.
And I just want to read, before I let you go here, some of the things that you can respond to. This is one that's on mine. It says, "One of the most terrifying thing I've ever heard, flashing lights, pitch black and the horrific screams of women. Terror."
"I just saw the nighttime home invasion video from Iran. I am horrified. With all the instant electronic media, Twitter, it makes the world feel even more affected by what is happening in Iran."
And then so on and so on and so on.
LEVS: You know what's interesting, I'll mention this quickly, I know we got to go. But when I'm showing you them, people may have noticed, if you're big twitterers, the ones I'm showing don't have any names of twitterers. And that's because we are in touch with some people in Iran, and we are -- just in case some are from people inside Iran, we are protecting those. The ones that Don has there are clearly not from inside Iran. So, we cannot draw that distinction.
LEMON: Yes. And we put in there. If you...
LEMON: Your comments will be on the air, yes, so they know every one who logs in when I send out a tweet, I say, we'll be reading your comments.
LEVS: You got it.
Josh, we really appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Thousands of protesters rallied in cities across the U.S. today against Iran's election. And we'll hear from a Farsi-speaking political analyst about what people are saying.
LEMON: All right. Let's take you to the streets of the United States now, because thousands of protestered rallied -- protesters, I should say, rallied in cities all across this country about the Iran election, including Los Angeles, home to a large Iranian-American community. I want to bring in Reza Goharzad. He was at today's massive demonstrations. He's a political analyst at an all-Farsi language radio station in L.A.
So you were at the rally today. First of all, thank you for joining us. What were people saying at the rally today? Because people really wanted to speak their minds, and we heard them all day long here on CNN.
REZA GOHARZAD, POLITICAL ANALYST, KIRN RADIO: First of all, thank you for having me on. The people in the United States and especially in Los Angeles, where you hear all those calls for solidarity. So they are repeating the same slogan and same needs and questions about what's happening in Iran and they are asking the international community to hear their voice and hear their voice that represents the Iranian youth that in Iran they are in the street. They are losing their lives because only they want one thing, they're counting their vote. They're asking, where is my vote?
Now, step-by-step, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei did not accept for the re-election. Now you see threat to people and use the fear tactic. In Iran the same way that's going on the street, you see them, you show them on CNN, everything is messed up and massacres going on. Iranian people in United States, from any idea, with a different idea, they come together, especially the United States, Iranians, the student movements from the different universities, and they are asking the same questions -- re-election, stop the violence and have the re-election under super regional independent council. LEMON: Independent council, right? I have to ask you this. I know there's an information blackout, right, in which everyone is being affected by, but no, you know, no one more than the people who are in Iran.
LEMON: I'm wondering if they are hearing about these protests in the United States and in Europe, and if they might be encouraged by them?
GOHARZAD: Yes, they are hearing that. The same way that they stopped any kind of news activities from Iran, and you guys are receiving everything through the Twitter and YouTube and everything from Iran and you're showing it here. The same way, Iranian people here, they are posting those on their Web sites, and they are seeing it over there.
So they see the solidarity and having the same slogans and wearing the same color and putting all together in one thing, they want the re-election. They want their freedom. They want the freedom of speech. They want to bring all of those human rights need that's for the 30 years it was hidden and it was ignored by the government through any kind of turmoil or any kind of crisis.
Now they said enough is enough. And the students here that most of them, they go to Iran and they come back. They have families over there. They come and do the same thing.
LEMON: You know what? I don't mean to cut you off, but I want to get this point in because we're up against the clock here. Just real quickly because I'm up against the break. What are the ex-pats in L.A. did you hear? What are they saying about the administration's response so far to this?
GOHARZAD: Most of the people, the one that they are issuing the same question and bringing the same thing, they're asking for the re- election. But partial of the people here in the United States, they have a different idea. They want to overthrow the government.
But for the other people, the reformist movement in the United States and Iran, they are talking that there is no time right now for overthrowing the government. First, we want our first minimum needs. The minimum need is reform in any kind, social justice, economy and everything with one new president that will answer those questions and will do those things. And that will be for this moment, Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi.
GOHARZAD: If they have a better choice, they will go for a better choice.
LEMON: All right, Reza, thank you so much. We really appreciate you joining us tonight.
GOHARZAD: Thank you very much.
LEMON: Coming up, a very interesting story and it is a documentary, a film about Iran's paramilitary group, that unit that you have been hearing so much about, the police that some say are going out and they are hurting people. That's what they say. We're going to hear from a documentary filmmaker about them. You don't want to miss this, coming up.
LEMON: With Iran's government clamping down on professional journalists, we are relying more than ever on video, photos and information from our iReporters who are on the scene. They're taking huge risks to tell the story of what is happening in Iran and all around the world.
I want you to check out this video we got earlier today.
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And I want to tell you that we are only identifying our iReporter as Sarah. She says the video shows demonstrators trying to get to a rally but they were blocked by police officers and army guards. And Sarah says one of the guards struck her husband's knee with a baton three times. And she says she's lived in Tehran three years but she doesn't think she's going to live there anymore.
And I want to show you one more. Another one is from Amir (ph). He has sent us photos of some of the scenes today in Tehran. Fire on the streets, apparently some kind of motorbike in flames. And check -- take a look at this one, another photo from Amir (ph). As you can see, there is danger and chaos all over Tehran. And you saw the video earlier of reported home invasions in the area.
I want to show you this real quick, because it's very easy to become an iReporter here and get your information on the air as well. All you have to do is go to ireport.com. Very simple. Put it in your browser, ireport.com. The letter "I," Report.com, and then at the top right of your screen, it says register. You click on that and all have you to do is follow the very simple instructions. You, too, can become an iReporter and share information with us.
Much, much more on the developing situation in Iran coming up on CNN.
LEMON: Back now to our breaking news. The escalating clashes in Iran. It's morning there now, but all afternoon and overnight, there was complete chaos in the streets. Police clashing with protesters. People are literally dying to be heard there. My guest is Kouross Esmaeli and he's an independent journalist and filmmaker and has spent the last four years reporting from Iran. He is in New York tonight.
Thank you so much for joining us. You say there's a huge division within the country, particularly among the young people. Are they leading these demonstrations?
KOUROSS ESMAELI, IRANIAN FILMMAKER: Certainly. The number of people that we see in the streets, a very large proportion of them are young. Iran is a young society, about 50 percent of the population is under 30 years old. But this has been too much talked about as a young revolution. It is the young people. It is the old people. It is all kinds of people who are participating in these demonstrations.
But there are also quite a few people who are not participating, who voted for President Ahmadinejad. And I think right now what is happening in Iran, there's becoming polarization in the society.
LEMON: Yes. And you bring up a very good point, because we are getting responses. And I was going to ask you that. Some people are saying, what if the election results are correct, there are many people who support Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
ESMAELI: Absolutely. I mean, it's very possible the election results were in favor of Dr. Ahmadinejad, but what the government has failed to do so far is to come clean with elections, the questions around the election, with the discrepancies, with some of the problems that the opposition has brought up. They need to answer those questions. And until they do, I think the demonstrations will probably continue.
LEMON: And to address the concerns of the people who are obviously out rallying on the streets.
So I want to talk to you about your documentary because much has been made and a lot of criticism over the Basij, and them apparently attacking people or treating people very harshly. What is the core of what they're fighting for? Tell us about this documentary that you have there.
ESMAELI: I interviewed the Basij two years ago in Iran. The Basij is basically -- you can take them as anything from boy scouts all the way up to a paramilitary group that carries arms. A lot of people are members of Basij. They join in high schools and mosques. They go camping together. They tutor each other in school. So it is a very big body. And reportedly a portion of the body is still militarized. A portion of the Basij still carries arms of some sort.
And purportedly, these are the people who have been inciting -- who have been creating violence on the streets. None of this, you understand, has been verified. The Basij, they're not -- they're not uniformed. So they're part of the population. And for a lot of people in the streets, a lot of Iranian people who, you know, walk on the streets, they just call anybody who is thuggish or, you know, seems to think that they know right from wrong and goes up to people and tells them like what to wear, they call them Basij.
So it's sort of a nebulous kind of a presence that they have in the streets. By their own numbers, they have 10 million members.
ESMAELI: Of course, not just 10 million, 10 million to 20 million. Not all of them are armed, nor are they creating violence on the streets of Iran.
LEMON: That is very interesting what you're saying about them and really more than what we've learned about them recently, I should say.
As I understand, I'm just going to be very transparent here, you want to speak to -- because you have spent so much time in the region, you want to speak to the president's response, President Barack Obama's response.
ESMAELI: Yes. I have been following the news in the U.S. closely as far as President Obama's response and also the response that -- from the opposition in this country, the Republicans, have made of him. And it's a shame, it's really a shame that Senator McCain, the Republican leadership is using the Iranian people, this incredible moment in Iranian history, they're using that for internal American politics of vilifying President Obama, accusing him of not supporting democracy when President Obama's stand has actually been the most sensible.
It is incredible to say that the most sensible politician in America is actually the president's when it comes to this issue. The U.S. is mistrusted by a wide section of the Iranian population inside Iran. And when I talk to people in Iran, everybody says, please, make sure that they don't say anything. Make sure they do not get involved. The worse thing that can happen is for us to be called pro- American in any sense.
LEMON: Kouross, you know, I have to challenge you on that, because I'm getting lots of responses from people who are saying, you know...
ESMAELI: It's the great thing to have in this country, open debate to have. And I want to make sure that people understand...
LEMON: Let me get my point out here, and then you can. There are people who are saying that the administration's response should be a little bit tougher or the president at least is. And I saw these on Twitter and on Facebook today. And also people who are e-mailing me as well, saying it is interesting that if during the time of the Iraq war, when President Bush was seen playing golf and he was criticized, today there appears to be huge unrest happening in Iran and the president is out today getting ice cream with his daughters. It is the same situation. Why is he not being criticized?
ESMAELI: That is the way the media has been spinning it. Well, for one thing, Bush -- President Bush invaded Iraq and then he was going about his merry way as if it was happening on its own. This is very different. The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran. The Europeans that do, they're withholding accepting the election results. That's one thing.
But the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations. What else is there for America to do? We saw after the day, you know, the unrest started and there were news reports about Twitter playing such an important role inside Iran, and this, you know, young guy at the State Department who made sure Twitter stays up. And that was sort of big news, saw the media patting themselves on the back, you know, for this role that the media in America played.
And it was immediately used by the Iranian government to say, see, it's the Americans behind those -- it's the Americans that are making sure that the riots continue and they're the ones behind these. Every single word by the Americans is being used by the Iranian government to vilify people. And people understand that.
You know, people in Iran mistrust the U.S., especially someone who continuously said bomb, bomb Iran. This is how Iranians know Senator McCain. This man is coming now and criticizing Obama for his stand on Iran. It's totally cynical...
LEMON: I need to get to a break here. So you're going to have to stop. But I have to say that -- I think you're saying that the people of Iran are used to the politics behind the politics. So, we appreciate you joining us tonight. I hate to cut you off. I don't mean to be rude but I have got to go because we're up against a break here. Thank you so much. We appreciate it. Our coverage continues here on CNN.
LEMON: There is new information coming in from Iran at every moment. The video you're seeing there are alleged raids and home invasions going on. We're checking on all of it for you. Also, we have your feedback.