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i called you from the dark - Forough in Tehran
In discussion with Forough during Iran's 2013 presidential elections
Forough (not her real name), an Iranian woman, speaks of her experiences during 2009's crackdown on peaceful post-election protests.
As the 2013 presidential elections take place, what is happening in Iran today?
Tehran Elections 2009 Protests (creative commons)
The nineteen eighties are etched in the Iranian memory as the ‘bloody decade’. It was a time of imprisonment and purges, thousands perished across the country at the hands of the regime. It solidified the extremes Iran could go to in its persecution of the ordinary man and woman, and it clarified beyond doubt the brutality of the Islamic regime.
In the mid to late 2000’s certain eager seeds of hope began to flower again among the youth of Iran. Enthusiasm blossomed into an exuberant confidence as the 2009 presidential elections loomed. Opposition to the long ruling hard-line Islamic regime were in the running. Things were looking up. As feverish excitement gripped the cities of Iran, massive crowds came onto the streets in support of President Ahmadinejad, with even larger and younger crowds emerging to support opposition hopeful Mir Hossein Mousavi.
But the world has since witnessed the disastrous events that unfolded. Election fraud, violent regime crackdown on protesters, the deaths, imprisonments and months long protests – the Green Revolution. 2009 was a year when hope rose high, but was then nailed down with harrowing force. And it frightened Supreme leader Khamenei and his Islamic regime to the bone.
Forough was present on the streets of Tehran in 2009. Her voice reflects the energy and spirit of the time as she recounts the events:
“People were very excited, each candidate had their colours, we went to the streets with our green to support Mousavi and we watched the candidates on TV. Every day for a week we protested in the street when the news broke of election fraud. It was a silent demonstration, we went from Imam Hossein Square to Azadi Square, millions of people came.
The Supreme leader warned off protesters at Friday prayer but we wanted to go on our silent protest. Myself and my sister went every day... The Basijis came among us and starting beating people. It was crazy. The Basijis kept attacking and tear gas was fired at us. Some of the protestors were killed. They were just protesting the injustice, the fraud in elections...They were killed on the street, there are many more who died.
In Azadi Square we were among the whole of Tehran, then things got violent with the Basijis again. We ran and some residents nearby helped us by leaving us in their houses for safety. The protests went on for months..
My sister continued for months later protesting. They beat her and she was then arrested. Just a young little girl and these men beat her”
Forough’s sister was sentenced to receive 50 lashes. This is an all too common sentence handed down to both men and women in modern Iran. And the Basijis, a civilian militia extremely loyal to the wishes of the Islamic regime, are present in every walk of life. They occupy positions in schools, universities and work place. They are the strong arm in the street as 2009 exhibited all too well, and they are mobilized to react brutally to any sign of dissent during 2013’s presidential elections also.
The Iranian regime is not taking chances this time around. It has released an unrelenting wave of tactical control across all spectrum's of civilian society, as well as crackdowns within the regime apparatus itself. Executions, imprisonments, torture and censorship levels have soared ahead of June 2013 presidential elections. Everyone from I.T. experts, bloggers, journalists, teachers, even poets have been imprisoned at the slightest step out of line. Enthusiasm and aspirations of change are at an all time low as oppression gains ground.
“I won’t vote again, my vote is useless.” says Forough.
Executions are taking place in public areas such as stadiums and squares with hundreds attending. Modern cranes, which we usually associate with building sites, are at the ready to haul up the convicted. Executions are even advertised to the public. In April placards advertising a mass hanging appeared around the streets of Shiraz in Southern Iran.
Journalists have increasingly felt the wrath of the regime in 2012 and 2013. Mass imprisonments have occurred in attempts to quill any negative coverage of the authorities and the upcoming Khamenei-friendly election. C.P.J., The Committee to Protect Journalists, have been monitoring the situation in Iran and have recorded an all time high figure of 45 journalists imprisoned in Iran in 2012, the second highest number of journalists held by any country in the world only beaten by Turkey. But CPJ have recently revealed even more disturbing trends from early 2013 onwards. Their special report on press freedom in Iran, ‘As election nears, Iran’s journalists are in chains’, cites 40 journalists held as of April 2013. It exhaustingly lists the personal hell experienced by journalists and their families in Iran today.
Media and internet are being strangled to prevent any ideas flourishing of a repeat of 2009’s Green Revolution. Access to foreign news websites and social networking platforms have been widely blocked, initiated by a complex internet policing project installed as the ‘National Internet’. It seeks to cut off outside communication flow entirely. A special police force has been set up just to police events around the June elections. The Washington Post reports that the Iranian Intelligence Ministry has issued a list of 23 instructions to citizens warning them to report interactions and questions by foreigners and ignore rumours of ‘the enemy’s media’. It was recently announced that Universities will close during election time, further limiting free assembly.
The list of names falls from Forough’s pen onto the page, one after the other.
We are talking about those who fell hardest in the protests of 2009. First she lists the protesters; young and passionate from all cross sections of society, each one either dead or dying in prison. Then the journalists; their coverage of the protests angered the regime, each fell victim to imprisonment or death. Then the lawyers who chose to justly defend the protesters. They also suffered; punished, imprisoned, and exiled.
Lastly she writes the names of the opposition figures, legitimate runners yet hounded until finally stamped out of the election. Each figure, ‘Protester-Journalist-Lawyer-Statesman’, fits into a somewhat idealistic chain of justice. Civil rights, free expression, justice and democratic process. The whole group, all vital links in an important societal chain, were muzzled and broken down by the regime. Total shutdown.
Sohrab Arabi - Neda Soltan - Kianoush Asa - Mahdi Kazali
Bahman Amoui - Baliareh Hedayat - Jila Bani-Yaghob - Masa Amrabadi
Abdul Fattah Saltani - Shirin Ebadi
The Opposition candidates:
Mir Hossein Mousavi – Reformist currently under house arrest with his wife Zahra Rahnavard.
Mehdi Karroubi – He too is a reformist and is currently under house arrest with his wife Fetemeh Karroubi.
We discuss the situation of Mahdi Kazali in more detail.
The son of a high-level cleric, Mahdi was jailed in 2009. His father has distanced himself from his outspoken son. Sadly a lot of Iranian human rights campaigners have done the same. This is where human rights get political.
“Mahdi Kazali wrote critically about the regime and he was put in prison many times. He is a good man. He was pushing for reform and wanted things to improve. Now he has solitary confinement and poor health. Mahdi Khazali is ignored as his ties are too close to the regime, just because if his father. Despite his positive human rights activism he is suffering as much as the others and he is fighting this system. In prison his situation is now very bad. He may die.” says Forough.
June’s elections are taking place at a critical and difficult juncture for the country. The new candidates entering the scene are quickly being disqualified as the June the 14th election date approaches and female candidates were rejected almost immediately. Objections among the Islamic regime to these disqualifications might signal the start of cracks appearing in the state structure. But the Supreme Leader is looking to consolidate his grip on power by eliminating any chance of free or fair elections. Sadly, the presence of no real opposition or reformist figures makes this purely an election of allies. Outside of the political circus and back in the real world life is now a struggle ever day for people like Forough. Pollution, unemployment, sanctions, restraining of personal freedoms. The people of Iran are getting tired.
'I speak out of the deep of night
out of the deep of darkness
and out of the deep of night I speak.
if you come to my house, friend
bring me a lamp and a window I can look through
at the crowd in the happy alley.'
Gift - Forough Farrokhzad
Tehran Elections 2009 Day 6 of protests (creative commons)
Tehran Elections 2009 Protests (creative commons)
Tehran Elections 2009 Protests (creative commons)
Tehran (creative commons)