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

1.2.1       Election Results are Announced

Early reports on Election Day indicated that the turnout would be very high. Polling stations were kept open two hours past the scheduled deadline.[29] The Ministry of the Interior reported that over 39 million of the 46 million eligible voters in Iran voted, resulting in the highest participation rate (85 percent) in the history of the Islamic Republic.[30] The high rate of participation was immediately heralded by the Supreme Leader as proof “that Iran, thanks to the Islamic, revolutionary slogans and values even thirty years after the inception of religious democracy in the country, is more alive and enthusiastic than ever and ensures friends and enemies that it would continue its bright way.”[31]

Late on Election Day, Mousavi held a news conference during which he alleged irregularities in the voting and counting of the votes.[32] He claimed, however, that he was the victor in the election with 54 percent of the official tally.[33] He also called on the Supreme Leader to intervene.[34] Following Mousavi’s press conference, Iran’s Election Commission Chief, Kamran Daneshjoo, announced in a surprisingly early press briefing that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had a strong lead in the polls.[35]

After midnight, jubilant supporters gathered outside Mousavi’s campaign headquarters in Tehran in anticipation of his victory speech. They were confronted by security forces that dispersed the supporters using tear gas.[36] However, there were no major confrontations. The security forces did not wear uniforms. Some witnesses were not sure whether they were police officers (NAJA) or members of the Basij. Others could not tell whether they were supporters of Ahmadinejad or merely enforcing a ban on street demonstrations during the election.[37]

Evidence suggests that a large number of Basij were mobilized weeks before June 12.[38] The Basij militia is a volunteer militia originally created to combat external enemies. According to its commanders, it currently has over thirteen million members.[39] Other estimates place the force at 400,000—about 90,000 active-duty Basij members who are full-time uniformed personnel and up to 300,000 reservists. Others believe that the Basij can mobilize up to one million men, including members of the University Basij, Student Basij, and the former tribal levies incorporated into the Basij (a.k.a. Tribal Basij).[40]

Basij members receive little or no law enforcement training. In 2007, its command structure was merged with that of the Sepah primarily to enable it to “deal with the threats from internal enemies.”[41] Major General Mohammad-Ali (Aziz) Jafari commands the Sepah. Hojjatoleslam Hossein Taeb was the head of the Basij until October 4, 2009, when he was appointed head of the Sepah’s intelligence unit. Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi replaced Taeb as head of the Basij militia.[42]

Under Iranian law, the Basij have broad discretion as to when they may take action. Militia members may engage in law enforcement whenever a crime is observed and they feel the police are not responding fast enough or properly, or when the police ask for their help.[43] Plainclothes Basij are often described by witnesses as men with beards or stubble who, though not wearing official uniforms, can still be recognized by their tight collared baggy shirts and loose pants. They are armed with batons, pepper spray, knives and guns.[44]

Early Saturday morning, the Election Commission Chief announced that Ahmadinejad was leading Mousavi by a two to one margin.[45] By Saturday afternoon, he announced that Ahmadinejad had won with 62.2 percent of the vote and that Mousavi had received just under 34 percent.[46] 

The final official election results gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 63.62 percent of the vote, followed by Mir-Hossein Mousavi with 33.75 percent, Mohsen Rezai with 1.73 percent, and Mehdi Karroubi with .85 percent. Ahmadinejad’s announced margin of victory was the largest since reformist president Mohammad Khatami won reelection with over 60 percent of the vote in 2001.[47]  

1.2.2       Fraud Allegations are Lodged

The three losing candidates alleged fraud. A representative of Mehdi Karroubi argued that the Interior Ministry distorted the early vote count by releasing the numbers of rural areas before the counting was complete in Iran’s cities.[48] In a June 14 letter to Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, Mohsen Rezai claimed that experts and evidence suggested that he was the recipient of at least three and a half, and maybe as many as nine, million votes and requested that the council investigate the matter.[49] Rezai published his letter only after Ahmadinejad claimed in his victory speech that none of the candidates had made an official complaint to the Guardian Council.[50]

There were reports of irregularities. For example, one witness reported that two weeks before the elections, in a village in Azerbaijan province, representatives of Ahmadinejad distributed money to families equivalent to $50 per head. They promised the villagers that payments would continue if Ahmadinejad were reelected.[51] In spite of this, support for Mousavi seemed strong and most members of the community believed that he would garner the most votes. However, no one from the village was allowed to witness the closing and sealing of the ballot box.[52] In a community with only 1,200 eligible voters, the official tally showed 900 votes for Ahmadinejad and 700 votes for Mousavi. One witness explained:

Every village in the area has its own ballot box and there are ballot boxes for the military. … The closest large town is quite a ways away. No one would travel to vote in this … [area]. Even if they did, they would not travel to this particular village, which is quite ordinary. Also, in such a small community, 400 visitors would be very noticeable.[53]

Other observers noted discrepancies between registered populations and votes counted at both district and province levels.[54] A high number of districts showed more votes than registered voters. A statement by the Guardian Council acknowledged that there had been irregularities but disputed the high number of places where they occurred. It explained that these discrepancies could be accounted for by the fact that Iranian citizens are allowed to vote outside of their home districts.[55]

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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