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


On June 13, 2009, the day after the tenth presidential election in the Islamic Republic of Iran, demonstrations erupted in cities across the country. Demonstrators protested what they viewed as widespread fraud—calls of “Where is my vote?” predominated. The Guardian Council had permitted only four men to campaign: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incumbent; Mohsen Rezai, a former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (Sepah), considered a conservative; Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister of Iran during the war with Iraq, considered a reformist; and Mehdi Karroubi, a former speaker of the Majlis, also a reformist.

Mousavi had declared himself the winner late on Election Day. The government immediately announced that Ahmadinejad had won by 62 percent of the vote. The regime also responded by cutting off electronic communication avenues within Iran and with the outside world. As the week progressed, cell phone and internet services were regularly shut down and slowed. On June 16, the authorities announced that foreign journalists were forbidden from reporting from the streets, and that their visas would not be renewed. Hundreds of domestic journalists and members of the press were arrested and intimidated.

Despite these efforts, demonstrations continued throughout the country on an almost daily basis through the month of June. On at least one occasion, the crowd numbered in the millions. In response, the government confirmed that Ahmadinejad had won and unleashed the Sepah (commanded by Mohammad- Ali Jafari) and the Basij (headed by Hossein Taeb) upon the crowds. As the crowds became larger and persisted in exercising their rights to peaceful assembly, the security forces became increasingly violent. Demonstrators were attacked, beaten and shot in the streets. Many demonstrators were killed in the street. Thousands were arbitrarily arrested—the Judiciary reported that 4,000 people were arrested in the initial weeks. Daily demonstrations finally slowed after a particularly harsh crackdown on June 20 during which at least thirty people were killed.

However, throughout the summer and continuing into the winter, demonstrators flooded the streets on remembrance days, and the security forces continued to brutally suppress all expressions of dissent. Objection to alleged fraudulent elections gradually developed into broader expressions of dissatisfaction with the government. Over the course of a few months, the protests became less focused on the election and more on the general repressive nature of the regime. On December 27, Ashura, reportedly hundreds of demonstrators were arrested.

The Iranian regime also arrested people who were not demonstrating but whom the government charged with fomenting a “velvet revolution.” The exact number of arrests remains unknown, but circumstantial evidence indicates that hundreds were arrested and detained merely for exercising their rights of association. The arrests captured broad segments of civil society, including leaders and members of political opposition and minority groups, members of the political establishment, lawyers, students, and academics. The arrests continued through the winter.

Many arrestees were threatened but released after a few days. However, many others faced torture, rape and sometimes death while in custody. Detainees were, and continue to be, subject to solitary confinement, lengthy interrogations, beatings, rape and other forms of torture. Many were not permitted contact with their families or lawyers, and many were coerced into providing public confessions. Some demonstrators were sent to the Kahrizak detention facility, where they were treated so brutally that the government ordered its closure and transferred detainees to Evin and other prisons. Three Kahrizak detainees died, due to lack of medical care, on the way to or shortly after arrival at Evin Prison. The families of many murdered demonstrators and detainees were denied permission to hold proper burial rites for their loved ones.

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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