Iranian Protests Show Deep Dissatisfaction with Flawed System

Washington

The massive demonstrations taking place in Iran expose citizens' growing frustration with a political system that does not allow them to change their government through peaceful and democratic means.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranian citizens took to the streets of Tehran for a third day Monday to protest the official announcement that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beat pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi by a margin of 2-to-1 in Friday's election. A top clerical panel, the Guardian Council, will reportedly look at formal complaints about the election from two of the four candidates. Many observers doubt the accuracy of the official election results, citing growing opposition to Ahmadinejad's governance inside and outside the establishment.

"Footage of Iranian police beating people and arresting them for expressing their opinions demonstrates the impunity with which the Iranian regime operates," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "This election could very well represent a watershed event for Iranians, who are no longer willing to tolerate increasing restrictions on their basic freedoms and the international isolation they've experienced in recent years."

Iran is not an electoral democracy, with all presidential and parliamentary candidates vetted through a highly-politicized and opaque process by the Guardian Council. The clerical body, appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the head of the conservative judiciary, also has the power to reject legislation approved by parliament. Khamenei is the final authority on all matters of foreign and domestic policy.

Iran received a downward trend arrow in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's annual survey of political rights and civil liberties. Mass disqualification of candidates for elected office—only four out of 475 were allowed to run for president—and the closure of numerous media outlets under Ahmadinejad led to the decline. The lead up to Friday’s presidential vote was also marred by violence, media bias and the use of state resources to support Ahmadinejad’s campaign.

"Iranian citizens know that there is no level playing field in their political system and yet they are still incensed by the ludicrous outcome of these elections," said Windsor.

A newly-released report from Freedom House, Undermining Democracy, discusses Iran’s role in subverting democracy at home and abroad. The report examines the Iranian regime’s domestic methods of control and its support for anti-democratic forces abroad, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, a variety of Shiite forces in Iraq and Hamas in Palestine.

Freedom House supports Iranian civil society and democracy activists through its programs and its Persian-English website, www.gozaar.org.

Iran is ranked Not Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in the 2009 version of Freedom of the Press.

To learn more about Iran, read:

Undermining Democracy: Iran
Gozaar
Freedom in the World 2009: Iran
Freedom of the Press 2008: Iran

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Iran since 1972.

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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