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

2.       Demonstrations

Street protests broke out immediately after the early Saturday announcement by Iran’s Election Commission Chief, Kamran Daneshjoo, that Ahmadinejad was winning by a large margin.[56] The rallies attracted men and women of all ages, and from a variety of socioeconomic segments of the population calling for nullification or a recount. The authorities responded by denying demonstration permits, and by sending in Basij and other security forces to break up the demonstrations. The large demonstrations continued regularly until June 20 when several demonstrators were killed. In the months following, demonstrations were generally limited to national remembrance days during which large numbers of people were expected to congregate in public spaces. Hundreds were arrested and several were killed at demonstrations on December 27, the day of Ashura, an important religious holiday in Iran. The demonstrations and killings continue as this report goes to press.   

In Tehran, cell phone services were cut[57] and anti-riot security forces took to the streets during the hours following the election. They remained for weeks.[58] Throughout the summer and into the winter, the government unleashed additional security forces in an effort to quell public demonstrations against government policies. The forces included the regular police, anti-riot police under the command of the Sepah, the Basij, and plainclothes forces that could belong to any law enforcement branch including the intelligence ministry, but were mostly identified as Basij. Witnesses saw security forces engage in brutal acts of violence. For example, one witness said:

In 7th Tir Square on Karimkhan Bridge, I saw them rush past on a motorcycle and throw a [box] cutter at people. It injured a lady and a young boy. The boy’s nose and the side of his face were cut and the lady was injured on her upper arm.[59]

 Another witness recounted:

While NAJA’s regular forces did not resort to much violence, the anti-riot police (which are a part of the NAJA but operate under the command of Tehran’s Sepah units) used severe force to prevent people from mobilizing. They used powerful tear gas, rubber bullets (which were often fired in the air) and attacks into crowds by [individuals on] motorcycles. They showed little mercy when confronting demonstrators and beating them. Of course, they had received training for these operations. Alongside these forces were plainclothes agents, who [were usually prone] to even more violence, especially against women. These plainclothes agents were mostly employed by the Basij, and they act without any regard for [the rule of law]. Sometimes ten of them would brutally attack one person.[60]

The Iranian government’s brutal suppression of demonstrators violated the demonstrators’ rights under Iranian and international law to peacefully assemble. Its killing of demonstrators violated their fundamental rights to life and constituted homicide. If the killings were widespread and systematic, they constituted crimes against humanity, rendering the perpetrators and their superiors criminally liable under international law.[61]

2.1        Saturday, June 13: Demonstrations are Sparked

An estimated ten thousand protesters thronged the streets of Tehran on Saturday. The protests in Tehran reportedly began in Vanak Square, but groups of demonstrators took different routes through the city. Demonstrators chanted “death to the dictator,” “death to the coup d’état,” called for a new election, and demanded that Ahmadinejad resign.[62]

Many demonstrators took to the streets to defend their votes. The precarious state of the economy, the high voter turnout, and suspicions of fraud made Ahmadinejad’s win—and especially his margin of victory—very suspect.

I was defending my vote. … I went and chose between these four people. I stood in line for three hours and I know many others who did the same. So, I was answering this affront against me. In no way whatsoever do I accept Mousavi as some kind of opposition leader. … I went and voted, and the next morning I woke up to find that my vote was not counted. Not my vote, nor anybody else’s. There was fraud, [and] I was protesting this fraud.[63]

Both Mousavi and Karroubi published statements demanding the nullification of the elections, and urged the population to remain calm. They did not attend the demonstrations on Saturday.[64] The Interior Minister, Sadeq Mahsouli, announced that the spontaneous demonstrations were illegal, thereby justifying the arrest and prosecution of protestors.[65]

By nightfall, protestors had set fire to trashcans, motorcycles and even buses while members of the Basij attacked the crowds with belts, batons, cables and rubber hoses.[66]

When people first came into the street they were angry. They were angry because they felt they had been lied to. They knew whom they had voted for, and they knew what had happened. They were made angrier still when officials denied the obvious. …They came into the streets to express their anger, by chanting slogans, burning things in the street, breaking things, just like everywhere else in the world.[67]  

Clad in black body armor and riding motorcycles, the Basij randomly damaged private property and stole from demonstrators.[68] There are reports that they confiscated cell phones and photographic equipment, and at least one Basij stole sunglasses from demonstrators. 

On [June 13], around five in the afternoon, a group of these [security] kids were being pounded [after they charged the crowd on motorcycles]. My husband went and brought one up [to our offices]. He was brutally beaten. His whole face was covered in blood. … We gave him some water and tea, changed his clothes and washed his face. We told him that if he went out with his own clothes the people would tear him to pieces. … In his pockets were several mobile phones he had stolen from people and several sunglasses [which we scolded him for].

… We asked him how much he was getting and what his situation was. He said: “We are supposed to get 50,000 Tomans [US$ 50] a day for these days. We were put on alert two months ago about the post-election days. They guessed it would become a tumultuous situation. We were ready. We are special forces, [but] we are not allowed to shoot people. However, they have said that if it continues, we will be given permission to shoot people. They told us to be prepared twenty-four hours before the election.”[69]

On Saturday night, people began shouting “God is great” from their rooftops at night, a strategy used in the 1979 revolution against the Shah.[70] The shouting continues.

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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