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A Year Later: Suppression Continues in Iran

One year ago, on June 13, 2009, demonstrations erupted in cities across the Islamic Republic of Iran. Demonstrators protested what they viewed as widespread fraud in the presidential election held the previous day. 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 reformist former speaker of the Majlis, the Iranian parliament.

Mousavi declared himself the winner late on Election Day. Iran’s Election Commission Chief, Kamran Daneshjoo, immediately announced that Ahmadinejad had won 62% 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 at shutting down communication, demonstrations continued throughout the country on an almost daily basis through June. In response, the government confirmed that Ahmadinejad had won and unleashed the Sepah and the Basij upon the crowds. As the crowds became larger and persisted in exercising their right to peaceful assembly, the security forces became increasingly violent. Demonstrators were attacked, beaten and shot in the streets. Many were killed. Thousands were arbitrarily arrested — the Judiciary reported that 4,000 people were arrested in the initial weeks.

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 an allegedly fraudulent election 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.

In the months after the election, 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 speech and 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 continue.

Many arrestees were threatened but released after a few days. However, many others faced torture, rape and even 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.

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Reports, Right to Protest, Imprisonment