DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Facing hard-line forces on the streets, Iran's anti-government demonstrators have taken their protests to a new venue: writing "Death to the Dictator" and other opposition slogans on bank notes, while officials scramble to yank the bills from circulation.
There's no way to calculate how much Iranian currency has been scribbled on or stamped with dissident messages in recent months in response to efforts to halt public demonstrations or choke off the Internet and cell phone messaging.
But it's been enough to bring public denunciations from financial overseers as senior as the central bank governor. Another top regulator said banks will no longer accept defaced bills in an attempt to discourage merchants and others from taking the protest-tagged money.
"What did they die for?" asked one message on a bill, referring to the estimated dozens of demonstrators killed in the wake of vote-rigging allegations in last summer's re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Another bill seen by The Associated Press carried a stamped image of a hand flashing the "V-for-victory" sign with a slogan underneath in the signature green color of the opposition movement: "Fear the storm of dust and dirt" – a reference to the dismissive description used by Ahmadinejad toward the protesters shortly after the vote.
A 2,000 rial bill – worth about 20 cents – also had the "V" sign with the message: "We are countless."
Others were stamped with the imprint of a red hand, signifying the images of protesters showing bloodstained palms, or the slogans "Death to the Dictator" and "Down with Khamenei" scrawled across the edges. All Iranian bank notes feature a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's predecessor, the Islamic Revolution founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
On a 20,000-rial note – worth about $2 – someone crossed out Khomeini's image and put an "X" through the word "Islamic" in the country's official name: Islamic Republic of Iran.
It's part of a wider campaign of back-to-basic tactics – such as pamphlets and graffiti – that has frustrated Iranian officials with their simplicity and displayed the ingenuity of protest groups trying to organize their next major rally to coincide with next month's anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"The irony is that these kinds of things, such as fliers and pamphlets, were used in the revolution," said Alireza Nourizadeh, chief researcher at the Center for Arab-Iranian Studies in London. "It's still an effective tactic."
The first written rants against Iran's leaders began appearing on money shortly after the disputed June elections. But they have increased in recent months as authorities tighten controls on the Internet and text messaging, which were the original lifeblood of protest organizers.
Lately, the messages on Iranian money have included calls to join anti-government marches on Feb. 11, the date that the last forces loyal to Iran's Western-backed shah collapsed as he watched from exile.
The anniversary is highlighted by a massive pro-regime rally in Tehran's Azadi Square. But protesters now use important religious and political commemorations to stage their own rallies, which have brought bloody confrontations with security forces and unprecedented acts of defiance against Khamenei.
In the last major protest marches – timed to overlap with an important Shiite day of mourning in late December – at least eight people died in clashes, including a nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Since the first days after the disputed election, Iranians wanting to vent their anger have taken to their rooftops after dark to shout "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great" – repeating one of the protest rituals of the Islamic Revolution.
A top banking official, Ebrahim Darvishi, said that as of Jan. 7, banks would no longer accept cash with graffiti or stamps, state media reported. Some bank notes with protest messages, however, were noticed days after the deadline, according to witnesses in Tehran who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of arrest.
Last month, the Central Bank of Iran governor, Mahmoud Bamani, said writing slogans on money would be considered a crime.
But the images of the bills have become a favorite posting on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter – the same Internet sites that Iranian officials are trying to muzzle.
It's the simple-but-potent aspect of the money campaign that captured most praise. One Farsi blogger featured pictures of the protest cash under the heading "Money Talks."