February 11 is Victory of the Revolution Day in Iran. Equivalent to the American Fourth of July, it commemorates the downfall of the monarchy in 1979, shortly after Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran from exile in France. Iranians generally celebrate the day by thronging to public places. This year, the Iranian government made sure that people who disagreed with it were not able to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly.
Those who support the government were welcome to congregate, but those who planned on protesting the authorities’ actions since the disputed June 12, 2009 presidential elections were met with violence and arrest. Of course it is difficult to assess exactly what has been occurring in Iran today as there is a veritable news blackout in Iran; foreign journalists were reportedly bused to the government-approved rally and were refused permission to talk to anyone or to cover any other actions. The government blocked most internet services and even Google reported that its gmail account users in Iran were unable to send and receive messages.
In the weeks preceding today’s holiday, Iranian authorities did their best to discourage any opposition protests. They arrested hundreds of people, including large numbers of journalists and women’s rights activists. Over eighty people—most convicted in disgraceful “show trials” have been sentenced to harsh prison sentences for their alleged involvement in stirring up the post-election unrest. Meanwhile, the government executed two men for the crime of “Moharebeh” or “Enmity against God” in late January. They had been accused of fomenting the post-June 12 protests even though they had been arrested before that date. Nine other people were also sentenced to death for “Moharebeh” and could be executed at any time.
Reports indicate that security forces today attacked two of the opposition presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi as they attempted to participate in protest rallies. The brother and sister-in-law of another opposition politician, former President Mohammad Khatami, were also briefly arrested. Mr. Khatami’s sister-in-law happens to be a granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini.
In a few days the international community will have its chance to send a clear signal to Iranian authorities that the world will not tolerate these horrific human rights violations. On Monday February 15 the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) will be scrutinizing Iran’s human rights record in its upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Iran. The outcome of the UPR process will be a report approved by the HRC, and which will include recommendations for addressing compliance with human rights obligations. Amnesty International’s goal is to insure that the resulting report and recommendations for improvements are as strong as possible.
Human rights activists also have an opportunity today to take action, for instance to urge the Iranian authorities not to go through with the executions of nine people or to join Bloggers Unite and leave a message of solidarity with the people of Iran. As the Iranian people valiantly fight to assert their basic human rights, they need to know the rest of the world stands with them in their struggle.
Check out some video footage of protesters in Iran: