Today's date:
Summer 2009

Democratic Refusal in Iran

Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights activist, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. She wrote this article exclusively for NPQ's Global Viewpoint Network on June 18, at the height of the post-election crisis in Iran.

On Monday, June 15, more than 1 million people marched in the streets of Tehran to support Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi—two defeated presidential candidates—and to object to the results of the election. Their destination was Azadi Square (Freedom Square) which, at the time of the Islamic Revolution 30 years ago, had been the gathering spot for revolutionaries. Mir Hossein Moussavi climbed on top of a minibus and spoke to the people through a loudspeaker. He told them to continue their objections but refrain from aggressive behavior, in order not to give security forces an excuse to resort to violence.

Peaceful demonstrations ended, and while people were slowly dispersing to go home, suddenly, from the rooftop of a building belonging to Basij (the volunteer people's militia), shots were fired on the people. Another group started firing from another direction. Based on reports, seven were killed and around 30 wounded and hospitalized.

Basij operates under the guidance and supervision of the Revolutionary Guards of the Islamic Republic. It was created after the revolution, and its sole duty is to maintain and safeguard the government. Although volunteers, Basij members enjoy many privileges. They do not wear military uniforms but have the right to carry weapons and police communication equipment.

People's dissatisfaction with the results does not concern the present elections alone: Many objections were made four years ago when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was first elected president. At the time, Mehdi Karroubi and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, two senior and powerful figures of the Islamic Republic, were Ahmadinejad's opponents.

Ahmadinejad's most important position until then had been mayor of Tehran. He was, however, supported by Basij and Ayatollah Khamenei, the Islamic Republic's leader for life. Karroubi submitted several complaints to the Guardian Council, the governmental body in charge of observing and ensuring the election process. But he did not obtain any positive results. Then-Pesident Mohammad Khatami announced that many violations had occurred. Furthermore, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who also objected to the outcome, explicitly stated that he would take his complaint to God himself, since no one in Iran would heed his objections.

Ahmadinejad's four years of presidency resulted in people's great dissatisfaction. During this time, inflation reached 25 percent, prices kept increasing on a daily basis, and people's purchasing power kept decreasing. A large number of newspapers were closed down, an increasing number of political and human rights activists were imprisoned, the offices of the Center for Human Rights Defenders [editor's note: Ebadi is chair of the center] were closed down, etc.

The leader of the revolution continued his support of the president in spite of the people's dissatisfaction, even after the Majles (parliament) declared that $1 billion had been withdrawn without legal authority. And the moment the Interior Ministry declared Ahmadinejad winner of the election, the Leader congratulated him, although votes had not been counted in all districts. Furthermore, other candidates had the right to contest the elections results, and no one should have been congratulated until their objections had been heard and definitive results been determined. This premature act of congratulating angered the Iranian population.

Objections to the election were generally as follows:

  1. At most voting locations, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi's representatives were not allowed to be present.
  2. t is claimed that many of the ballot boxes were tampered with.
  3. Ahmadinejad obtained 14 million votes in the previous elections. This time, however, they made the unprecedented announcement that he had 24 million votes. Mehdi Karroubi announced that his votes were less than the number of his election headquarters' members and the members of the Etemad Melli party, which he heads. When millions of people in Tehran and other cities came out on the streets to protest the elections results, it was clear that Ahmadinejad's 24 million votes could not have been accurate.

Students also objected to the results. On June 15, in the wee hours of the morning, when Tehran University students were at their dormitory, the Basij militia conducted a murderous raid and a number of students were killed. There are no exact figures at present, but at least five students are said to have been killed, two of whom are women. Many have been injured.

Basij militia and security forces also attacked students in a number of other cities such as Isfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz. An estimated four have been killed and many others have been injured. According to the students themselves, 300 of their brethren were arrested by June 18.

Continuing protests led to the arrest of Ahmad Zeydabadi, secretary general of the Advar Tahkim Vahdat party. Furthermore, a great number of political and social activists, including Saeed Hajjarian, Mostafa Tajzadeh, Abdolfattah Soltani and Reza Tajik, were arrested. High-speed Internet was disconnected, and foreign journalists were ordered to leave Iran as quickly as possible.

Mobile phone services and television networks including VOA and the BBC were disrupted, and the government tried to cut people's lines of communication with each other.

The situation caused a number of the members of the parliament to announce their objections in a letter and the speaker of the parliament, Ali Larijani, to declare the Interior Ministry responsible for violence and unrest.

Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi encouraged their supporters to continue calm and peaceful protests. They told them to voice their objection and dissatisfaction through shouts of Allah-o-Akbar (God is great) between 9p.m. and 10p.m. The sound of Allah-o-Akbar resonated in the entire city every night, reminiscent of the nights of the revolution.

The intensification of popular protests resulted in the leader of the Islamic Republic ordering an investigation of the complaints and the Guardian Council announcing that some of the ballot boxes would be recounted. However, that did not calm the situation. In the end, the Guardian Council affirmed the vote's result.

The best solution for establishing peace in Iran consists of:

  1. The unconditional release of every individual arrested and imprisoned for having objected to the results of the elections.
  2. Ordering the cessation of Basij and police violence toward protestors.
  3. Declaring the election void.
  4. Ordering new elections under the auspices of international organizations.
  5. Paying compensation to the injured and to the families of those who have been killed.

Instead of heeding these proposals, the Supreme Leader reasserted his authority with a widespread crackdown that has undermined the legitimacy of the government. The struggle will continue.