Iran: Green hits the streets
By Slater Bakhtavar
web posted June 29, 2009
To All Humanity:
My freedom is yours.
You won't be free unless you help me to get my freedom. Don't remain silent while in the dark of night you hear screams of mothers for the lives of their kids. Don't cover your ears when you hear the cries of the children for their mothers and fathers who have been shot by hooligans. They're trying to silence them and me and take away the thirst for freedom when they are done with us they will look for you.
Yes, my friend, my freedom is your freedom. Therefore, I beg you, to please post on this site any media that can show injustices to freedom fighters. – Jabi, on Facebook
For the Iranian people everything begins on June 12, 2009, with their 10th presidential election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution: the challenge was between the outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the opposition's leader, Hossein Moussavi. Their decision today is largely whether to keep hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power for four more years, or to replace him with a reformist more open to loosening the country's Islamic restrictions and improving ties with the United States. Another candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, is more closely associated with the core causes of the Iranian reformist movement, including the freeing of political prisoners and women's rights, but, as a former prime minister in the 1980s, Mr. Moussavi is given great credit for having managed Iran's economy effectively during the war with Iraq.
We are hearing reports from Iran that text-messaging has been blocked all over the country. Independent observers are not allowed to be present at the voting. Results are expected to come in early on Saturday in Tehran. Mr. Moussavi's supporters say they remain concerned about the possibility of fraud, but a determined campaign, led by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a two-term former president and one of Iran's richest and most powerful men, has kept that issue in the public eye. In an extraordinary public letter on Tuesday, Mr. Rafsanjani urged Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to prevent any fraud, and on Thursday he met with the ayatollah for three hours. "If the system cannot or does not want to confront such ugly and sin-infected phenomena as insults, lies, and false allegations made in that debate, how can we consider ourselves followers of the sacred Islamic system?" Mr. Rafsanjani wrote.
On June 13th, the Interior Ministry, controlled by Ahmadinejad, announces that he has been elected in the first round with 62.6 percent of the vote, compared with less than 34 percent for Moussavi. Turnout is an extraordinary record: 86 percent of the 46.2 million eligible voters. But the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports that, according to the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, officials from Iran's Interior Ministry would have contacted Mr. Moussavi after the polls closed on Friday night, saying that he would have won the election, and asking him not to make any announcement.
As vote-rigging often leaves traces in the results, let have a look at some interesting items:
After a legal and controlled investigation, Iran's senior panel of election monitors says that, in 50 cities, the number of votes cast exceeded the actual number of voters; Even if candidates usually win in their home districts, especially where their ethnicity should help them, Moussavi, an Azeri, lost in Azerbaijan and Karrubi won only 5 percent into his native district, with a 10th part of his 2005 votes; With paper ballots, a speed count is suspicious, but for this election the Interior Ministry declared victory for Ahmadinejad only two hours after polls have been closed and results were immediately authorized.
The disbelief on the part of the international community is shared by many Iranian citizens. And while the defeated candidate launches a legal appeal, what ensued on the streets of Tehran is the largest public demonstrations in the Islamic republic's 30-year history. There are now hundreds of thousands of people protesting in the centre of Tehran. Security forces — who vastly outnumbered the small group of demonstrators — beat the protesters gathered on Tehran's Baharestan Square with batons and fired tear gas canisters and rounds of ammunition into the air.
All three Ahmadinejad's challengers in the election have made public allegations of fraud after results showed the president winning by a 2-to-1 margin, so, on June 16th, the Guardian Council, made up of clerics and experts in Islamic law and closely allied to Mr. Khamenei, having the apparent authority to nullify an election, is called to certify the results. Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders, a media rights group, is urging nations not to recognize the results of Iran's presidential election, citing censorship and a crackdown on journalists.
Some days later, the Guardian Council announces – in a rare acknowledgment – that there have been voting irregularities in 50 districts, including local vote counts that exceeded the number of eligible voters, but that, however, these discrepancies are not widespread enough to affect the result.
The Guardian Council warned that some material on the web is ''creating tension'' and must be removed to avoid ''legal consequences." After confining foreign journalists to their hotels, bloggers are the new target of the regime. The Guardians of the Revolution consider the web as a threat and to keep images and stories on events in the country from being published on the Internet, the regime has threatened those who use social networks to spread information. Blogs and social networks have been and are crucial for the Iranian opposition to let the world know what is happening. Facebook and YouTube have been playing an important role in this too, with the former hosting longer manifestos and idea exchanges, and the latter hosting grainy film of protests and police attacks captured on cell phone cameras. But for "front line" news bulletins, Twitter has emerged as the preferred mode of clandestine communication.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday Ahmadinejad visits Russia – which has long-time political and economic ties with Iran, where it is building a nuclear power site at Bushehr. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow declares he respects the election result: disputes about the vote "should be settled in strict compliance with Iran's Constitution and law" and are "exclusively an internal matter."
In New York, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon urges an "immediate stop to the arrests, threats and use of force."
On June 19th, the U.S. House of Representatives passes 405 to 1 the following bipartisan resolution, introduced by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.6) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Cal.28), to support Iranian dissidents and
(1) expresses its support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law;
(2) condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the Government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cell phones; and
(3) affirms the universality of individual rights and the importance of democratic and fair elections
Lastly and most importantly, the resolution expresses Americans' unqualified support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law.
America is freedom and in this cause the American people will not be silent. There is no intention here to pick sides in the Iranian election, but to simply stand by those who stand up for freedom.
Monday June 22nd will go down on history for Neda Agha Soltan's death, whose video circulated worldwide, with her proud wonderful eyes. What we have seen through her last glance is a powerful desire on the part of the Iranian people to be free.
Caspian Makan, her boyfriend, said the 26-year-old woman had not been deterred by the risk of joining protests. She was a philosophy student and loved poetry: Iran's Rumi and America's Robert Frost were her favorites.
He told an Associated Press reporter during a telephone call that "she only ever said to want one thing: democracy and freedom for the people of Iran." Iran state radio blamed civilians' murder like Soltan's on "saboteurs" – not the pro-regime Basij militiamen who have been beating the protesters. To verify reports on demonstrations, clashes and casualties is quite impossible: Iran has ordered reporters to stay in their offices, barring them from reporting on the streets. Reporters Without Borders put at 34 the figure of reporters detained since the protests began. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 13 are still in custody. State radio reported today that Iranian authorities arrested at least 457 people after post-election clashes that left 10 people dead, as the nation's clerical leaders battled to contain the worst crisis since the Islamic revolution.
Perhaps do detaining journalists for reporting news and commentary indicate the government has something to hide?
Only on June 23rd, eventually, in response to critical comments from Sen. John McCain of Arizona and other Republicans, President Obama condemns the Iranian government for its crackdown against election protesters and accuses Iran's leaders of fabricating charges against the United States. If only he would have read the new nationwide public opinion survey of Iran conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow – The Center for Public Opinion ("TFT"), the New America Foundation, and KA Europe SPRL ("KA"), he would know that Iran has been deprived of the benefits of globalization such as the import of new ideas, technologies and practices. Inside their houses, the lifestyle of Iranians suggests that they are following almost every contemporary trend, from fashion to the use of technology, above all in Teheran, but, as a student wrote on Facebook, Iranians don't want to have to worry about too many rules: "We want the rest of the world to be open to us too. Ahmadinejad doesn't think bigger than Iran, he thinks that Iranians will be happy if he gives us a bag of potatoes. But we want more."
More than 70 percent of Iranians also favor Iran providing full inspections and a guarantee not to develop or possess nuclear weapons in return for outside aid and investment. In another consistent trend over the past two years, 77 percent of Iranians back normal relations and trade with the United States. Sixty-eight percent also favor Iran working with the United States to help resolve the Iraq war, while 60 percent back unconditional negotiations with the U.S. The Iranian people have proven that they desire a free, democratic society and due to social sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube the world can no longer ignore them.
Slater Bakhtavar is president and founder of Republican Youth of America, a frequent commentator and respected analyst on foreign policy issues, an attorney with a post-doctoral degree in International law and pursuing his M.B.A.
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