by Gulamhusein A. Abba
Were the Iranian elections rigged? If so, would the results have been different if they had not been rigged? Even if the protestors are in the thousands or even millions, are they the majority in Iran? Is giving in to their demands in the best interests of the state of Iran? Were the protests aided, if not engineered by foreign powers bent on regime change in Iran (after all the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mosaddeq was toppled by a CIA engineered uprising which put the puppet Shah of Iran back on the throne)? Was Neda killed by a Basij or an extremist supporter of the clerics, or by someone from among the protestors in search of an iconic martyr, or by the CIA (as alleged by Iranian sources)? Was she a protestors’ martyr killed by a Basij or a Basij martyr killed by a pro-Mousavi demonstrator, as the regime is trying to portray?
All this needs to be investigated, thought about and decided.
What is undeniable is that the dissenters and protestors have been dealt with extremely harshly and the voice of dissent has been silenced.
Gunfire, tear gas and water canons were used by baton yielding security forces against unarmed demonstrators peacefully and non-violently exercising their inherent right to question their government, hold it accountable, express their feelings and make demands.
There can be no question that it is for the constituted authority to decide whether it is in the best interests of the nation as a whole to accept the demands made of it. But there can be no excuse for muzzling dissent, especially in the way the clerics chose to do.
Within three days of the start of the demonstrations, seven persons were shot dead by pro regime militia; hundreds of protestors were held all over Iran; Basij and police forces let loose an unacceptable level of violence in a raid of student dormitories of Tehran University, leading the speaker of Iran’s parliament to call for a thorough investigation of the violence by government forces.
Systematic and sustained efforts have been made by the Iranian authorities to intimidate and frighten the protestors and their leaders and silence all form of dissent.
Eye witnesses have said thousands of police and plainclothes militia members filled the streets to prevent rallies. Fire trucks took up positions in Revolution Square and riot police surrounded Tehran University, cordoning it off. People were barred from entering Freedom Street.
Helicopters hovered over central Tehran. Ambulance sirens echoed through the streets. Black smoke rose over the city.
Demonstrators were seen dragging away comrades bloodied by baton strikes.
On June 20, there were fierce clashes near Revolution Square in central Tehran after some 3,000 protestors, many wearing black, had gathered there. Reportedly some 50 to 60 protestors were seriously beaten by police.
The semi-official newspaper Fars reported on June 29 that a total of 1.032 people were detained during post election unrest. It quoted police chief Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam as saying that most had been released and the rest had been sent “to the public and revolutionary courts” in Tehran. However, according to Amnesty International 1,000 have been held, and, according to Paris based International Foundation for Human Rights, 2000 arrests have been made – “not just people arrested and later released, but who are locked up in prison.” These include politicians, intellectuals, protestors and journalists. On June 28, Amnesty International said it was concerned about the possibility that many detainees “could be severely tortured” in custody
Iranian police have said 1,000 people were arrested and that most have since been released. But the state-run English language news network Press TV quoted prosecutor-general Qorban-Ali Dorri Najafabadi saying that 2,500 people were arrested and that 500 of them could face trial. The remainder, he said, have been released.
A prominent human rights lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah was taken away by security forces from his office along with his daughter and three other members of his staff, the pro-opposition news Web site Norouz reported. A former deputy commerce minister in a previous pro-reform government, Feizollah Arab-Sorkhi, was also arrested at his Tehran home, the site reported. A large number of top figures in Iran's reform movement, including a former vice president and former Cabinet members, have been held for weeks since the electionus.
Various sources have claimed that up to 20 persons were killed, though rumors of higher death rates abound.
Even the family members and campaign offices of the presidential candidates were not spared. On June 21, Iran’s government arrested five family members of Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, an ayatollah who is one of the country’s most powerful man. Those arrested included his daughter Faezeh Hashemi. Rafsanjani heads the cleric-run Assembly of Experts, which can choose and remove the Supreme Leader. He also chairs the Expediency Council that arbitrates between parliament and the unelected Guardian Council.
The repressive actions of the clerics were not confined to the protestors, their leaders and their families.
Certain websites, including Farsi BBC, Facebook, Twitter and G-mail were blocked by the government; Tehran based analyst Saeed Leilaz was arrested, as were a number of Iranian journalists; foreign journalists were barred from reporting in the streets; several newspapers were closed down; according to Karroubi’s reformist political group, Iranian authorities had banned the daily Etemad-e-Melli (National Confidence), a newspaper allied to presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, after he denounced Iran’s government as “illegitimate” because of claims of voting fraud.
This is not all. The clerics and their enforcers have created a charged atmosphere in Iran and spread an all pervasive fear.
On June 19, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke of “bloodshed and chaos” and gave a stern warning to those who “want to ignore the law or break the law.” On Friday June 26, Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami, an influential Iranian cleric, close to Iran’s Supreme Leader, in a sermon at Tehran University, said that those stirring “unrest” in connection with Iran’s recent elections, should be punished “ruthlessly and savagely” and convicted for waging war against God, a crime that under Shiite Islamic law is punishable by death. “I want the judiciary to punish leading rioters firmly without having mercy… Based on Islamic law, whoever confronts the Islamic state should be convicted of mohrab… they should be punished ruthlessly and savagely.”
Regime critics can be – and have been – accused of committing treason and the penalty for that in Iran is death.
Iran’s feared Basij militia has accused Mousavi of undermining national security and asked a prosecutor to investigate his role in violent protests.
Fars news agency has reported that Basij sent the chief prosecutor a letter accusing Mousavi of taking part in nine offenses against the state, including “disturbing the nation’s security,” which carries a maximum penalty of 10 year’s imprisonment. “Whether he wanted or not, Mr. Mousavi in many areas supervised or assisted in punishable acts” the letter states in part.
Iran’s judiciary said on June 23 that a special court would be set up to “make an example” out of “rioters” arrested during the demonstrations.
The chief public prosecutor has assumed control over all investigations into “agitators” and has set up a “special court” to deal with such cases.
All this is most distressing and regrettable. The clerics now in charge of Iran have chosen violence and intimidation in order to concentrate all political power solely in their hands.
By their actions, the language they use, its tone and tenor, they have undermined their standing and power. There is now a split in the establishment itself. Even the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom, Iran’s biggest group of respected clerics which has many leading ayatollahs with impeccable revolutionary credentials, has declared Ahmadinejad’s re-election to be illegitimate and condemned the subsequent crackdown.
The influential Grand Ayatollah Yosef Sanei considers Khamenei’s involvement on the election fraud to be haram (forbidden in Islam). Mohsen Kadivar, an imam and religious philosopher, referring to Khamenei, has said, “He reminds me very much of the Shah, who, in the end, was only concerned with preserving his regime.”
And that is the tragedy. The gains of the Great Revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran and established a republic have been squandered. Indeed that revolution has been stabbed in the back by the present day clerics that rule Iran today. The Iran of today is no republic. It is ruled by a cabal of clerics desperately trying to cling on to power.
It appears that just as the Israelis of today have become what their oppressors of yesteryears were, so have the Iran revolutionaries who just a few years back toppled an all powerful despot, have themselves become despots, vesting all power in a few unelected clerics led by an all powerful Supreme Leader more concerned with holding on to that power than making Iran a republic in the true sense of the term.
There is a glimmer of hope. Every time a regime represses, it undermines its own power and increases the ranks of its opponents.
History shows that when revolutionaries ultimately degenerate into themselves becoming despotic rulers, they sow seeds of another revolution which devours them eventually.
The ruling clerics have clearly lost much, if not all of their moral authority and are now relying on brute force to remain in power. They are bound to be toppled. It is a matter of time.
The question is, who or what will they be replaced by?
Author’s note: It has been very difficult for me to write this piece. On the one hand I love and admire Iran. For so many reasons. I love the warmth, friendliness and hospitality of its people. I love its flowery, soft, seductive language ( as a student in St. Xavier’s High School I studied Farsi, then called Persian, and later, in St.Xavier’s College, read Gulistan-e-Sadi). And I admire Iran for toppling the corrupt, despotic Shah of Iran Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and replacing his regime with a republic; for standing up bravely and resolutely to the tyrant Saddam Hussein when so called freedom loving governments looked the other way at his using poison gas on the Iranians and his own people and went out of their way to make him stronger; for refusing to submit to the tremendous pressure from powerful governments and resolutely pursuing its inalienable right to enrich uranium and harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes; for standing by the Palestinians and helping them as no other nation has done. But, I am also a committed defender of human rights and a firm believer in peoples’ right to assembly and to free speech. And I believe that when a wrong is done, by foe or friend, it is one’s duty to speak out. Silence, in such cases, is complicity. What is more, true friends always stage interventions in the case of those whom they love and admire when they pursue a course of action detrimental to them. It is in this spirit that this piece is written