Ahmedinejad Blames West for Election Unrest

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad gave a speech on state television on Tuesday insisting it due to the meddling of Western nations that violence broke out following the June 12th presidential election. “Our arrogant enemies tried to interfere in our domestic affairs in order to undermine these great elections. The result of their childish acts of interference in Iran’s internal affairs is that the Iranian nation and government will enter the global stage several times more powerful. What they did was very wrong, and some of our people were, unfortunately, hurt.”

20 people were killed in the aftermath of the disputed election results with over 100 people injured and thousands detained. Opposition leaders, including Mir Hussein Mousavi and former President Mohammed Khatami, have released a statement saying such a crackdown would not help his reputation amongst the people. Mousavi also has called on the EU to not recognize Ahmedinejad as a legitimate leader.

In his first public appearance in over a week, Mousavi’s comments suggested that the opposition will now be taking its fight off the streets and into the courtroom– and understandably so. Due to the large-scale crackdown and fear of the government’s seemingly indiscriminate arrests, protests numbered have begun dwindling.

Ahmedinejad continued to dismiss charges of election fraud, stating that, “the people who claimed there was fraud didn’t even have one document” to prove it, that “we have no expectations from

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad gave a speech on state television on Tuesday insisting it due to the meddling of Western nations that violence broke out following the June 12th presidential election. “Our arrogant enemies tried to interfere in our domestic affairs in order to undermine these great elections. The result of their childish acts of interference in Iran’s internal affairs is that the Iranian nation and government will enter the global stage several times more powerful. What they did was very wrong, and some of our people were, unfortunately, hurt.”

20 people were killed in the aftermath of the disputed election results with over 100 people injured and thousands detained. Opposition leaders, including Mir Hussein Mousavi and former President Mohammed Khatami, have released a statement saying such a crackdown would not help his reputation amongst the people. Mousavi also has called on the EU to not recognize Ahmedinejad as a legitimate leader.

Ahmedinejad continued to dismiss charges of election fraud, stating that, “the people who claimed there was fraud didn’t even have one document” to prove it, that “we have no expectations from normal people, but we didn’t expect politicians to question this great epic.”

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Iranian Journalists Detained in Unknown Location since June

UPDATE: 22 OF 25 IRANIAN NEWSPAPER STAFFERS FREED

The Committee to Protest Journalists published a statement today that said 22 of the 25 journalists that worked on the staff of Kalameh Sabz have been released. According to their website, “Alireza Hosseini Beheshti, manager of Kalameh Sabz, told the site that three editorial staffers remain behind bars. Over the weekend, authorities also released Life.com photographer Amir Sadeghi, who was arrested about a week earlier.”

Iran’s presidential election saw a government clampdown not only on protestors’ right to express themselves, but the media’s right to, as well. Currently, dozens of journalists – some who also campaigned for either Mir Hossein Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi, both candidates in the presidential election, have been detained in the past fortnight with their whereabouts mostly unknown.

For example, around 20 of 25 employees of the newspaper Kalameh Sabz arrested at their office in Haft Tir Square on June 22nd are still detained and their whereabouts remain unknown. Kalameh Sabz is a newspaper established by presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in 2009, and which has not been published since June 14th.

Amnesty International calls for the immediate release of journalists arrested since June 12th who are at risk of torture in detention.

Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui released the following statement:

“If nothing else, the authorities must immediately disclose the whereabouts of these journalists, ensure that they are not tortured or otherwise ill-treated and allow their families and lawyers access to them. Unless the authorities lift all unlawful restrictions on freedom of expression – which includes the right of journalists to report on events – and release all the journalists arrested, we can only assume they are trying to hide evidence of abuse and further silence any critical voice.”

Take action to help release human rights defenders, journalists and others detained in Iran!

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Human Rights / Death Penalty Lawyer Arrested in Iran

In the midst of all of the political and social turmoil in Iran right now, activist and lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei was arrested this afternoon and taken away by plainclothes officers while out with his wife and daughter. The arrest was most likely related to his human rights activites connected with the recent protests, but he is most well-known for his work representing juveniles facing the death penalty.  The officials searched Mostafaei’s home and his office after arresting him and then took him away to an undisclosed location. His family has not been informed of his whereabouts.

Mohammad Mostafaei is a lawyer who, among other things, represents those on death row who were juveniles at the time of their crimes. He currently has 25 such cases. As a signitory of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, Iran has agreed not to execute anyone for a crime committed before the age of 18, but they have ignored this agreement many many times. By Amnesty International’s count, Iran has executed 18 child offenders since 2007.

Several juvenile offenders are currently at risk of execution in Iran, including Mohammad Reza Haddadi and Naser Qasemi, and Mehdi Mazroui.

It is important for the Iranian government to know that others are watching how they treat their citizens, particularly those who work in defense of human rights. And it is important for Iranian human rights defenders to have our support. Mostafaei is, in many cases, the only hope his clients have of being spared their life, but there is little that he can do from behind bars. Please urge Iranian leaders to release Mostafaei, and to permit others to speak out without fear of persecution.

"Do Not Be Afraid" is One Word in Farsi

Of all the players in what has become Iran’s bloodiest uprising in 30 years, few have captured the world’s attention like the Iranian women have. It began with Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi. An professor at Tehran University, she was the first candidate’s spouse to campaign publicly on behalf of her husband, and as a result, her rallies drew thousands decked out in green. Rahnavard was even nicknamed the Michelle Obama of the Middle East. Post-election, she is still campaigning fiercely against the current Iranian regime, only this time for the release of detainees and to allow legal protests to continue.

Since then, women of all ages have been turning up at the protests against the contested election results. One 19 year old girl told CNN that she was beaten by paramilitary forces and forced to give them her camera’s memory card—something she stealthily got around by giving them an empty card instead. “They were hitting everyone, and everywhere was fire because of the tear gas they throw at us,” she said. “There were a lot of other women there. We gave the boys the stones because we can’t throw them so far. We gave them the stones, and we said the slogans.”

In his press conference yesterday, President Obama acknowledged the role of women in the Iranian protests. “We have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets,” Obama said.

Perhaps the most iconic woman of this struggle is now Neda Agha-Soltan, the non-political, 26 year old music student who was shot to death as she stepped out of her car to get some air. The graphic video of her death has already been viewed on YouTube over 200,000 times, in which onlookers tell her “do not be afraid”. She is now referred to as the new voice and symbol of the revolution.

Melody Moezzi, an Iranian American author, went on CNN and emotionally declared that Neda’s death has made an enemy out of all the Iranian people for the Supreme Leader and his leadership. “Natersid, natersid—do not be afraid—is one word in Farsi. That word has become so powerful. She’s a martyr; she’s going straight to heaven. God is on her side, we are on her side.”

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

What Next in Iran?

Protesters and police clashed in Tehran today over the outcome of last week’s presidential elections. Alertnet has published a good Q & A on what might happen next in Iran:

WILL THE AUTHORITIES CRACK DOWN HARDER?

This seems likely after Khamenei’s steely Friday sermon in which he warned opposition politicians they would be responsible for any bloodshed if protests continued against the June 12 poll, which he said Ahmadinejad had won fairly by 11 million votes.

A senior police commander said on Saturday any further protests would be illegal and police would act firmly.

The authorities had allowed many of the huge marches of the past week to proceed, in the hope they would die down.

However, human rights groups say police and religious militia have sometimes attacked largely peaceful demonstrators. Hundreds of opposition and reformist activists have been detained.

Other signs of a crackdown have included attacks by security forces and militias on university dormitories, severe disruption of internet and mobile telephone communications, and curbs on international and domestic media, the rights groups say.

The authorities can call on the elite Revolutionary Guard, the religious basij militia, police and other forces considered loyal to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to crush dissent.

WILL THE PROTESTS CONTINUE?

It is not clear yet that the hundreds of thousands of Iranians who have protested in Tehran and elsewhere are ready to cool their anger over an election that Mousavi says was rigged.

Mousavi and another losing candidate, liberal cleric Mehdi Karoubi, have called for the vote to be annulled.

The anti-Ahmadinejad camp has support from a broad coalition of moderates and conservatives within Iran’s religious and political establishment, including former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran.

Because Khamenei has thrown his weight behind Ahmadinejad, these establishment insiders will have to decide whether to pursue a course that could lead to much bloodshed.

They will also have to weigh the risks of an opposition campaign that would effectively challenge the authority of the Supreme Leader, a pillar of Iran’s system of Islamic rule.

IS ANY COMPROMISE POSSIBLE?

It is hard to see any deal that could satisfy both sides, especially after Khamenei’s harsh rhetoric on Friday.

But an offer by the Guardian Council, a watchdog body which must certify the election result, to recount a random 10 percent of the votes in the presence of representatives of the defeated candidates, might open the door for a face-saving solution.

The council, composed of 12 clerics, half of them appointed by Khamenei, had invited the three candidates to discuss their complaints on Saturday, but only Mohsen Rezaie, a conservative former Revolutionary Guard commander, showed up.

The council had said previously it was only willing to recount some disputed ballot boxes, not re-run the election, which official results showed Ahmadinejad had won with nearly 63 percent of the vote, against 34 percent for Mousavi.

COULD KHAMENEI BECOME A TARGET?

The Supreme Leader, who has usually preferred to rule from behind the scenes, has thrust himself into the thick of the political conflict by siding so openly with Ahmadinejad.

Khamenei has enormous powers, far outweighing those of the president, but one body, the 86-man Council of Experts, does have the authority — never previously used — to depose him.

Rafsanjani presides over this body of clerics, but it is not clear whether the wily politician would be able or willing to muster a majority for a constitutional challenge to Khamenei.

Ominous message from the Iranian Supreme Leader

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran

Today, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, spoke to the crowd at the weekly Friday Prayer and made what many have interpreted as a warning to those opposing the contested election results to cease their public protests or else face possible severe reprisals. The reprisals in question have been viewed as thinly veiled references to violence by government agents and Basij, or paramilitaries. The Supreme Leader said that opposition leaders would be held responsible for any bloodshed that resulted from the banned opposition rallies.

Although the protests in the streets in the first few days after the elections were met with attacks by baton-wielding riot police on motorcycles, and on Monday by deadly indiscriminate shooting into the crowd that left up to seven people fatally wounded and many more injured, the massive street protests since Monday have been largely peaceful, although random violence carried out by vigilantes and Basij have been reported.

Human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani is one of the activists who have been arrested in the aftermath of election protests in Iran.

Human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani is one of the activists who have been arrested in the aftermath of election protests in Iran.

The Iranian authorities have conducted their severest repressive measures in the form of mass detentions of journalists, students, opposition politicians and human rights activists. Among those arrested are human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, a close associate of Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi and a member of the Center for Human Rights Defenders.

However it has been an open question to what extent the Iranian authorities would be willing to unleash the full force of its military and riot police against the vast numbers of protesters in the streets. The potential for such use of violence to result in large-scale bloodshed is alarming.

Amnesty International has expressed concern that an opposition rally that is said to be planned for tomorrow may be met with the use of excessive violence. We urge the authorities to respect the right of the Iranian people to engage in the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association.

Written by Elise Auerbach, AIUSA Iranian country specialist

Protests and Crackdowns Spread Throughout Iran

There is a misconception that protests against Iran’s contested election results have been confined to Tehran. That is not the case. Although the largest protests have indeed been taking place in Tehran, Iranians in many other cities and towns have been taking to the streets. Unfortunately, the crackdown carried out by Iranian authorities has correspondingly extended to every corner of the country.

Mir Hossein Mousavi hails from Azerbaijan, in the northern part of Iran. The capital of Azerbaijan province, Tabriz, has seen some of the most severe crackdowns.  Seventeen political activists including those associated with the Nehzat-e Azadi (Freedom Movement) were detained on Monday night after they held a peaceful protest in Abresan Square in Tabriz. Security forces entered the dormitories at Tabriz University and detained ten students who had been involved in demonstrations. Student leader Amir Mardani and Dr. Ghaffari Farzadi, a leading member of the Nehzat-e Azadi and a lecturer at Tabriz University, were among those detained.

In the city of Oroumiye, local media reported on Tuesday that two people had been killed and hundreds more detained in a crackdown on about 3,000 people protesting in Imam Street.

In Shiraz, southern Iran, security forces used tear gas as they forced their way into a library at Shiraz University. Reports say that several students were beaten and around 100 were detained. Unconfirmed reports suggest that one person may have been killed. The chancellor of that university, Mohammadhadi Sadeghi, resigned on Tuesday in protest.

Meanwhile, in Mashhad, in the northeast, there were further reports of security forces attacking students and in Zahedan, in Iran’s southeast, two students are among at least three activists who have been detained.

In one particularly ominous piece of news, Reuters reported that Mohammad Reza Habibi, the public prosecutor in the central province of Esfahan, had warned demonstrators that they could be charged with engaging in “Mohareb” or “Enmity with God”—a crime punishable by death according to Iranian law. It was not clear if his warning applied only to Esfahan, where there have been violent clashes, or the country as a whole.

Protests are expected to continue today as a large opposition rally has been called. Large crowds can also be expected to congregate for Friday prayers on the following day. Amnesty International has called for the Iranian authorities to refrain from using violence against peaceful protesters and to release all those detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.

Ibrahim Yazdi Detained in Tehran

Ibrahim Yazdi, the Secretary General of the Freedom Movement of Iran political party, was just arrested at 3 PM today by the Iranian Security Forces at the Pars Hospital, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.  He has since been transferred to the Evin Prison in northwest Tehran.

Yazdi was Deputy Prime Minister for Revolutionary Affairs for the interim Iranian government in 1979 directly after the Islamic Revolution. He also served as Foreign Minister and was elected to the Islamic Consultative Assembly parliament, serving for 4 years.

As recently as Saturday, the day after Iranians went to the polls, Yazdi was speaking out against what he saw as a rigged election.  Such discourse may have contributed to his arrest.

100 others have allegedly been detained alongside Yazdi.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Solidarity (and Suspension) on the Soccer Field

June 19 Update: Any soccer players that were seen wearing the green wristbands have been suspended for “government interference”.

The Iranian soccer team was seen clad with green wristbands during their World Cup qualifying match against South Korea.

Green is the signature color of the mass Iranian movement for former presidential candidate Mir Hussein Musavi. Daily protests against the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, numbering in the tens of thousands, have become virtual seas of green–with participants sporting green-colored headbands, shirts, and posters.

While there is no confirmation that the soccer team wore the wristbands in support of Musavi, it is not customary for players to wear wristbands at all.

Soccer has long been the sport of choice in Iran by both men and women. There’s a fantastic Iranian film called “Offside” about a group of women who try to sneak into a soccer match (interestingly enough, a match that determines whether Iran will compete in the World Cup) dressed up as men. It is directed by Jafar Panahi, one of Iran’s most influential and acclaimed directors. NPR has a great review on their website here, and you can also see a trailer on YouTube. Check it out!

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

History in the Making in Iran

Iranian plain clothes policemen beat a demonstrator (c)AFP/Getty

Iranian plain clothes policemen beat a demonstrator (c)AFP/Getty

We are glued to news coming out of Iran, literally watching as history is unfolding. Commentators have been grasping for relevant comparisons; is this another Tiananmen Square? Another Prague Spring? Or is it even a Second Iranian Revolution? But no comparisons are appropriate for the phenomenal outpouring of people demanding that their rights be respected.

Why is this happening in Iran? We don’t see massive protests in other Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt when there have been allegations of electoral impropriety.

Adjectives such as fearless, indomitable and awe-inspiring come to mind as we see Iranians continually defying bans on opposition protests to pour into the streets by the hundreds of thousands. They constantly find ingenious ways to confound the authorities’ attempts to block communications; now that foreign journalists have been prevented from covering rallies, we rely on the videos, photos and eyewitness accounts provided by Iranian citizens to YouTube and their friends and relatives for up-to-the-minute information.

Iranians express their defiance in a variety of other ways: women have been risking their safety and even their lives to walk up to Basij (paramilitaries) and riot police on motorcycles and armed with truncheons to remind them that “we are all Iranians” and asking them to refrain from violence. Even members of Iran’s soccer team playing in a World Cup qualifying match in Seoul wore green armbands, the color of the opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

The yearning for freedom and human rights is a mighty force. Some have claimed that human rights is somehow a “western” concept, foisted on the rest of the world by paternalistic and arrogant Europeans and North Americans. Yet despite Iranian authorities’ attempts to portray the protests as being somehow the result of American “interference” it is clear that the impetus for the massive protests comes from the Iranian people themselves.

What will happen? Already the Supreme Leader has made an unprecedented announcement that there will be an investigation into the allegations of election fraud. Another massive rally by supporters of Mr. Mousavi has been called for tomorrow and there is no way to predict where events will lead.

The authorities have reacted to the unrest by use of force—sometimes lethal—as well as by mass arrests of opposition figures, journalists and human rights lawyers. We hope they will not unleash the full fury of the Revolutionary Guards against the demonstrators, which could result in unthinkable deaths and injuries. But we do know that there is no turning back. The Iranian authorities cannot count on the hope that things will just settle down and that the Iranian people will continue to accept the massive human rights violations perpetrated on them.