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Violent Aftermath: The 2009 Election and Suppression of Dissent in Iran

1.       The Election

On June 12, 2009, Iranians participated in record numbers in the tenth presidential elections held in the Islamic Republic of Iran. A spokesman for the Guardian Council reported that more than 85 percent of the 46.2 million eligible voters participated in the election.[1] Tensions, already high in the days leading up to the election, were heightened as the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a reformist candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, both declared victory on election night. Following an announcement by the Election Commission of preliminary results that indicated a victory for the incumbent, the opposition candidates issued statements alleging fraud.

Since the 1979 revolution, the presidential election process in Iran has developed into a system that is tightly controlled by the Guardian Council.[2] This development has been accompanied by repeated allegations of fraud. However, the breadth of fraud allegations following the 2009 election was unprecedented and led to massive protests by voters. The government brutally suppressed the demonstrations, arrested thousands, killed many, and forced countless prisoners to confess to alleged crimes involving national security and fomenting a “velvet revolution.”

1.1       The Presidential Election Process

In 1989, the Iranian Constitution was amended to eliminate the post of prime minister and to provide that “[a]fter the office of Leadership, the President is the highest official in the country.” The president is responsible for implementing the Constitution and acting as the head of the executive branch.[3] He is in charge of the national budget, and chooses special representatives, deputies and ministers from outside of the parliament, including the Minister of the Interior.[4] In addition, the amended Constitution created the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) headed by the president, which among other things, is charged with the “coordination in the areas relating to politics, intelligence, social, cultural and economic fields in regard to general defense and security policies.”[5]

Under Article 115 of the Constitution, the president is elected from among religious and political personalities. The president must also possess administrative capacity, resourcefulness, virtue, and piety and must be committed to the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic and its official religion (Twelver Shi’a Islam).[6] 

The Guardian Council is charged under Article 99 of the Constitution with supervision of elections.[7] In 1991-92, the Council interpreted Article 99 to mean that it had supreme and all-inclusive authority over elections. Thus, the Council had the power to disqualify any candidate it considered unfit.[8] Though this interpretation was considered illegitimate by many scholars at the time, it was supported by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.[9] In an address to the Council, he directed:

If someone speaks and writes in opposition to the views of the faqih, he is anti-Velayat-e Faqih. [Candidates] must be pure and pious. Although some people are good-natured, it is obvious that they act partisan, and this is not good. As a rule, therefore, it is better if you not select these people. If there is no proof or evidence against them, you can act based on your own knowledge.[10]

On July 26, 1995, the conservatively-dominated Majlis amended the election law and officially granted the Guardian Council these absolute powers.[11] The amendments established that the supervisory powers of the Council are “unequivocal throughout the duration of the election and with regard to all matters.”[12] As a result, the Guardian Council culls the list of candidates allowed to run for president and has final say over the certification of elections.[13]

The Guardian Council excludes candidates from running for office based on subjective criteria.[14] Disqualified candidates for both parliamentary and presidential elections have included respected clerics and traditional supporters of the Islamic system.[15] The Council is not required to explain its reasons and its decisions cannot be appealed.[16]

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Sexual Violence, Death Penalty, Political Killings, Executions, Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Punishment, Personal Liberty, Arbitrary Detention, Travel Restrictions, Due Process, Right to an Attorney, Illegal Search and Seizure, Free Speech, Right to Protest, Protests, Political Freedom, Equality Before the Law, Discrimination, Reports