Iranian Regime Will Bear Responsibility for Any Violence

Washington

Freedom House calls on the Iranian government to refrain from using further violence and threats to intimidate hundreds of thousands of protesters who are exercising their human rights to freedom of speech and assembly. In his sermon today, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that there would be “consequences” if those demonstrating the outcome of last week’s presidential election did not stand down. 

 “Whether or not violence continues to mar these protests is entirely up to the government of Iran, which must restrain the security forces and ensure the rights of its citizens,” said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. “It’s appalling that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would use his Friday sermon to openly threaten Iranian citizens for peaceably expressing their views. This exposes the violent impunity with which the Iranian regime operates.”

There are no reliable estimates on the number of people killed in clashes between government forces and protesters earlier this week. Demonstrations against the fraudulent elections are occurring throughout the country in cities including: Tehran, Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz, Isfahan, Rasht, Mashhad, Bandar Abbas, Sary, Qasvin and Yazd.

Freedom House is especially concerned by the actions of government-sanctioned vigilantes who in recent days have assaulted individual demonstrators in order to provoke the crowd. These vigilantes are often armed with knives and brass knuckles and circulate among the crowd dressed in plain clothes. There is no clear legal mechanism for holding these vigilantes accountable and their presence suppresses the right to free speech.

Opposition leaders and their supporters are demanding a new election, alleging that last week’s vote was rigged to heavily favor President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, 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 is appointed by Khamenei and the head of the conservative judiciary. Khamenei, who controls Iran’s armed forces including the Revolutionary Guard, remains the final authority on all matters.

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.

Khamenei’s threats come amid a wider crackdown on reformists in recent years. The regime often targets women’s rights activists, scholars and others from the Iranian community abroad, accusing them of being agents for foreign powers and seeking to destabilize the country.

Iran is ranked Not Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World and in the 2009 version of Freedom of the Press.

To learn more about Iran, read:

Gozaar (www.gozaar.org)
Freedom in the World 2009: Iran
Freedom of the Press 2008: Iran
Undermining Democracy: Iran
Discrimination and Intolerance in Iran’s Textbooks

Freedom on the Net: 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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