How the Iranian regime crushed the reform movement in 2009

Protests continued throughout weeks with reports of clashes between demonstrators and security forces. (AP)
Updated 11 June 2019

How the Iranian regime crushed the reform movement in 2009

  • The 19-month violent period is described as ‘the edge of the abyss’
  • Demands for an independent recount of votes evolved into running battles between protesters and security forces

TEHRAN: A decade has passed since Iran held its most bitterly contested elections ever, the aftermath of which shook the country to its core over allegations of mass electoral fraud.

Massive demonstrations and counter-demonstrations by protesters and state supporters raged across major cities for 19 months, nowhere more so than in the capital Tehran, in what was later described by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the “edge of the abyss.”

As the world watched on in amazement, the so-called Green Movement that started out with “silent” demonstrations against ultra-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election as president and demands for an independent recount evolved into running battles between protesters and security forces.

The advent of camera-equipped mobile phones and the spread of the Internet-meant images of the protests fanned out quickly, causing the main focus of the demonstrations to switch from electoral fraud to repression.

The determination of the state to stamp out what it considered to be “sedition” at any cost, including mass trials and death sentences, gradually brought the movement to a standstill.

One of the reformists arrested in the first wave of the crackdown was journalist and activist Ahmad Zeidabadi.

“History will look back at the defeat of the Green Movement as a bitter event that left its supporters extremely and deeply frustrated and disillusioned,” said Zeidabadi, who was detained the day after the election.

Amir Mohebbian, a conservative politician and analyst, said the circumstances had changed in many ways since 2009 when “the state realized that the opposition and America” were behind the riots, and therefore used its “full powers to take control of the situation.”

The 2009 election campaign might well have been one of the most dynamic in the country’s history.

The one-on-one TV debates between candidates changed the mood of the campaign from festive to a bitter face-off, none more so than an explosive encounter between Ahmadinejad and his main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi.

On Friday, June 12 when polling stations opened, the turnout — officially at 85 percent — forced voting hours to be extended late into the night.

The first signs that something had gone awry came when Iranians realized the SMS messaging system had been disabled overnight.

Reformists soon claimed telephone lines to their vote tallying centers had been cut and many observers had not been allowed to enter polling stations.

Later on, some of Mousavi’s main campaign centers in Tehran were closed by security forces.

Mousavi held an impromptu press conference late at night and claimed victory, warning that any reports to the contrary would be a sign of fraud.

The final official count showed Ahmadinejad had won with nearly 63 percent of the vote, and within hours sporadic protests began in Tehran and soon spread to other major cities.

As the vote breakdown was published, reformists pointed to irregularities and claims of mass fraud gained traction.

Ahmadinejad’s victory rally on June 14 in which he called protesters “dirt and rubbish” riled many voters.

When Mousavi and the other reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who had officially gained 34 and 1 percent respectively, called for a counter rally in Tehran on June 15 the response by supporters was beyond expectations.

There is no official figure as to how many took part in the demonstration on that Monday but reports from different political factions claimed more than 3 million marched in silence onto Azadi (Freedom) Square.

Holding banners asking “Where is my vote?” they waved green flags, Mousavi’s official campaign color.

Demonstrations continued throughout the week with reports of clashes between protesters and security forces. The authorities demanded that candidates pursue complaints through the Guardian Council, tasked with supervising elections. A recount of 10 percent of ballot boxes was held, confirming Ahmadinejad’s victory, but his challengers contested the council’s neutrality and refused to accept its ruling.

On Saturday, June 20, another massive rally in central Tehran turned violent as protesters and security forces clashed.

Though local and foreign media were now banned from attending the rallies, many powerful pictures and videos emerged.

One depicted the shooting that day of Neda Agha-Soltan, a student in her 20s, whose death was described as “heartbreaking” by then US President Barack Obama.

That Saturday’s protests were among the bloodiest, only matched by the fierce clashes on Dec. 27, 2009.

Though gradually declining in size and frequency, the protests went on until February 2011, the last time Mousavi and Karroubi called for demonstrations before authorities placed them under house arrest, where they now remain.

It was never known how many people lost their lives or were wounded during the protests. The state says dozens were killed, mostly by “seditionists.”

For Ali Shakouri-Rad, one of the last active reformist politicians, Iranians have since moved on and have become “occupied with issues other than elections, such as the economy.”


Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

Updated 36 min 45 sec ago

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

  • Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic
  • The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14

TUNIS: Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Tunisian cities on Saturday to protest police repression, corruption and poverty, following several nights of unrest marked by clashes and arrests.
Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled the economy and threatened to overwhelm hospitals.
Over 6,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Tunisia, with a record 103 deaths reported on Thursday.
The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14.
But protesters took to the streets in several parts of the country, including the capital Tunis and the marginalized interior region of Gafsa, to demand the release of hundreds of young people detained during several nights of unrest since January 14.
“Neither police nor Islamists, the people want revolution,” chanted demonstrators in a crowd of several hundred in Tunis, where one person was wounded in brief clashes amid a heavy police presence.
Protests were also held in the coastal city of Sfax on Friday.
Much of the unrest has been in working class neighborhoods, where anger is boiling over soaring unemployment and a political class accused of having failed to deliver good governance, a decade after the 2011 revolution that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Economic misery exacerbated by novel coronavirus restrictions in the tourism-reliant nation have pushed growing numbers of Tunisians to try to leave the country.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said Omar Jawadi, 33, a hotel sales manager, who has been paid only half his salary for months.
“The politicians are corrupt, we want to change the government and the system.”
The police have said more than 700 people were arrested over several nights of unrest earlier this week that saw young people hurl rocks and petrol bombs at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.
Human rights groups on Thursday said at least 1,000 people had been detained.
“Youth live from day to day, we no longer have hope, neither to work nor to study — and they call us troublemakers!” said call center worker Amine, who has a degree in aerospace engineering.
“We must listen to young people, not send police in by the thousands. The whole system is corrupt, a few families and their supporters control Tunisia’s wealth.”
Tunisia last week marked one decade since Ben Ali fled the country amid mass protests, ending 23 years in power.
Tunisia’s political leadership is divided, with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi waiting for parliament to confirm a major cabinet reshuffle announced last Saturday.