Act Now for Iran!

Iran has not seen a public demonstration of this size in 3 decades. After the results of Friday’s contested election, hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets in an act of defiance.

According to reports, as many as five students at Tehran University were shot dead over the weekend and another person was wounded when security agents opened fire on a demonstration. Motorcycle-mounted riot police have severely beaten large numbers of protesters with clubs and night sticks.

Authorities have done all they can to make sure this story doesn’t get out including blocking cell phones, text messaging, email and Web sites.

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Death Toll Rises in Iran

8 more people were killed during Monday’s protests against Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s electoral victory in Tehran. Rallies in support of Musavi nonetheless continued on today, with more people than yesterday, according to witnesses. Numbers cannot be confirmed as all foreign media have been barred from entering the city.

Protesters have persistently been updating the world on Twitter and on YouTube, though. While yesterday’s rallies came to a bloody end, today’s was relatively calm.

Meanwhile, experts around the world are trying to figure out whether the results of Friday’s election were legitimate or not. While no one has been able to deem the results invalid, people are skeptical at best about Ahmedinejad’s margin of victory.

In fact, several news and blog sites have gone green in solidarity with the protesters.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Obama Speaks Up About Iran

Kudos to President Obama for breaking his long silence on the Iranian election violence that has been raging since Saturday. Obama said, “I think that the democratic process, free speech, the ability for folks to peacefully dissent, all those are universal values and need to be respected.”

Yesterday’s protests left seven people dead after hundreds of thousands took to the streets against what they view as the fraudulent re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

While his remarks did not touch on how he viewed the results of the election, Obama did take a strong stance against the security forces’ reaction to the protesters: “When I see peaceful dissent being suppressed, wherever that takes place, it is of concern to me and it is of concern to the American people. That is not how governments should interact with their people. And my hope is that the Iranian people will make the right steps in order for them to be able to express their voices, to express their aspirations.” He has also urged that a full-scale investigation be done regarding possible voter fraud.

The questions surrounding Ahmedinejad’s questionable landslide victory leave President Obama in a tight spot—whether to follow up on his big campaign promise to engage with the Iranian government, even one that is now not considered legitimate by many of its own people.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Twitter Saves the Day

Since Friday’s Presidential election, the Iranian government has blocked access to several social networking sites, such as Facebook, and cut off cell phone services. But updates have continued to stream in from Iran via Twitter. While these updates are only 140 characters or less– they are certainly packing a punch.

Recent tweets read:

“Demo spread from Azadi sq, to streets and hwys around it. Cars honking horns, smaller groups marching. False hopes?”

“Dispersed fights in Tehran; sound of shooting heard”

“Tho today’s protest is illegal, police not moving in. Possibly too big to handle, or images of attax beg. to embarrass ldrs”

Follow the election protests on Twitter here. The Atlantic has a page called “Live-Tweeting the Revolution” with Twitter updates, as well. Other sites, such as Flickr, are constantly uploading photographs from these rallies.

It almost seems like 24-hour news networks just can’t keep up– they’ve even been accused of falling behind on coverage by bloggers!

Update: Twitter has pushed back its scheduled down time due to how important it has become for communication with Iran over the past few days.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

What's Happening in Tehran?

Iran went to the polls on Friday, June 12th, to vote in its highly anticipated and closely watched Presidential election. Within hours, and with 2/3 of the votes counted, incumbent Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was declared the victor by state media– a declaration that sparked this weekend’s ongoing violent protests.

For more information on what exactly happened and is continuing to happen in Iran, take a look at the following articles and blogs for some excellent commentary:

  • Juan Cole has tackled allegations of election fraud on his blog, Informed Comment, as has Reza Aslan on the Daily Beast
  • Both the Huffington Post and the Guardian have been live-blogging the protest violence since election results came out on Friday
  • Robert Fisk also discusses the violence and what it means for the US in his Sunday op-ed for the Independent

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

The June 12 Elections in Iran: A New Future?

© AFP/Getty Images

© AFP/Getty Images

Enormous crowds throng the streets of Tehran and great excitement is in the air.  Commentators note that the June 12 presidential elections in Iran could be the most important election in thirty years.  In the previous presidential election of 2005, only a minority of eligible voters actually went to the polls. No one expects that to be the case this year as the country’s young people—most Iranians were born after the Revolution of 1979—are expected to turn out in large numbers.

As Iranians prepare to go to the polls to elect their president, human rights has surprisingly emerged as a subject of debate among the four candidates.  Human rights activists wonder whether the unexpected airing of this once-taboo subject augurs a positive change.  Is this a step towards a new future of respect for human rights?  At the same time Amnesty International has documented the Iranian authorities’ continued brutal crackdown on wide sectors of Iranian society—women’s rights activists, students, journalists and bloggers, labor rights activists, and religious minorities.

It is clear that the exuberance expressed by the Iranian people in this election is an indication of their desire for a change, and especially for an improvement of Iran’s human rights record. The Iranian authorities should not assume that these yearnings for change will disappear after the election is over. Human rights activists hope that the Iranian authorities will recognize that the population’s demand for an end to human rights violations must be taken seriously, but also that allowing Iran’s vibrant civil society and activists to flourish without repression would create tangible benefits for Iran.

That is why human rights activists look to this historic election and allow ourselves to dream of what a future could be if labor activist Mansour Ossanlu who fought passionately for the rights of transit workers, could be released from prison and could work openly and freely to better the lives of the millions of hard-working Iranian laborers.  Or if Emaddedin Baghi, one of the great public intellectuals of our time, would no longer face constant government harassment in his efforts to advocate for more democracy and an end to executions, especially the horror of juvenile executions.  Or if instead of imprisoning AIDS researchers Kamiar and Arash Alaei on absurd charges of plotting to overthrow the government, these caring physicians would be allowed to carry out their internationally acclaimed work to prevent and treat HIV.  Or if instead of arresting and constantly harassing women rights activists such as Jelva Javaheri, the Iranian authorities could champion these feisty and tireless women in their efforts to improve the lives of Iranian women.

All of these heroes are great and inspiring role models not just for Iranians, but for people everywhere in the world. As the presidential candidates accuse each other of undermining Iran’s standing in the world, we know that allowing Iran’s activists to carry out their work free of harassment would bring favorable international recognition and honor to Iran. Will the discussions about human rights in the presidential debates really result in tangible improvements? This will only happen when the Iranian government really listens to those millions of Iranian voices roaring in the streets around the clock.

Iranian Presidential Debate Heats Up

Last night turned into a fiery exchange of words during the second of several debates lined up ahead of next week’s presidential election. While there currently no English translations available on YouTube of the debates, CCTV has a couple of clips up here:

Former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Musavi and incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traded barbs on issues ranging from the economy to nuclear power to Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory comments about the Holocaust.

Reuters, the New York Times, and Bloomberg all discuss the debate in more detail.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post