Protests Continue to Spread in Iranian Election Aftermath

Russ Jones | Christian Press | Friday, June 19, 2009

Protests Continue to Spread in Iranian Election Aftermath

June 19, 2009 

Iran’s state-run media maintains that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won his “re-election” bid as the country’s president. But increasing protests -- despite police crackdowns and the release of Basij militia – show that thousands upon thousands of Iranians are unwilling to accept what they believe was a rigged election. Even the state-run media has reported the deaths of seven protesters, and pictures smuggled out of Iran via social media paint a bloody picture.

Christians React to Election Results

Officially, current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won with almost two-thirds of the vote. His main opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, claims he actually received that amount, but that the Interior Ministry decided in advance who would “win” the election.

Open Doors, a ministry who works with persecuted Christians around the world, says many Iranians haven’t accepted the official results. News reports show protestors streaming through the streets of the capitol in Tehran. Other reports indicate that Ayatollah Khamenei has directed the Guardian Council to examine claims of election fraud after President Ahmadinejah was declared the winner.

Some Christians say they supported Mousavi with hopes he would bring religious freedoms not currently experienced in the Middle Eastern country. The Iranian government controls churches and persecutes Muslim Background Believers (MBBs), arresting them as they commit the “crime” of leaving Islam.

Sandra, a Christian co-worker with Open Doors, is among those who say they are frustrated and have lost trust in their government even before the election.

“Ordinances introduced following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, curtailing the rights of Christians are now more rigorously enforced than before,” she said. “One Assembly of God church in Tehran was forbidden to run a Sunday School.  Islamic clerics vet children's Christian material while all discipleship materials need to be approved by the government.”

One Christian told Open Doors that the tension in the election aftermath is palpable even in areas where there are no open protests. Daryush (his name has been changed) from Shiraz said, “In my neighborhood there is no evidence of any skirmishes or demonstrations and also no celebration from the elections anymore. The streets have been swept clean. But the evidence that we have trouble in Shiraz is the constant presence of various security forces and the military helicopter I saw flying overhead. But I have only driven around my own neighborhood, so I can’t speak for the entire city.”

Dayush reports that the situation is much grimmer in other districts. “Friends told me that young people in Shiraz are being arrested and that they’ve seen young men and women being beaten or worse. A friend who lives near the university and student dorms told me she heard screaming, shouting and gunfire in the early hours of the morning. The predominately young demonstrators are calling Ahmadinejad a dictator and yell chants like ‘Ma dolate zoor nemikhaim’ – meaning ‘we don’t want a government of force.’ They also yell at the security forces and call them traitors and vote-stealers.”

Daryush also says there are those who have never voted and will most likely not do so as they see the election as “a total fraud.”

Sham Elections Reveal a Sham Democracy

In recent months Ahmadinejad’s government distributed 400,000 tons of free potatoes to the poor in what some say was a blatant effort to bribe voters. This led supporters of rival candidates to chant "death to potatoes" at their campaign rallies.

James Phillips, Senior Research Fellow – Middle Eastern Affairs, of the Heritage Foundation says Iran's government is not a true democracy but a theocratic dictatorship that cloaks the rule of the ayatollahs with a façade of representative government.

“Ahmadinejad's opponents had no faith in the fairness of the vote-counting process and, based on their long experience with Iranian elections, they have good reason for their concern,” said Phillips. “However, it is the Supreme Leader, not the president, who has the final say on key defense, foreign policy, and nuclear issues.”

Many believe President Obama should speak more forcibly about the elections. Phillips agrees.

“Now that it is clear that the regime’s fist remains tightly clenched around the neck of the Iranian people, the Obama administration cannot simply take a business-as-usual approach to Iran’s clerical dictatorship,” said Phillips. “This would send a dangerous signal to the regime that it can forcefully crush the demonstrations at little or no cost in terms of international pressure.”

Social Media Keeps Protests Alive

Social media Web sites like Twitter and Facebook are playing an important role in political protests spreading through Iran. While the Iranian government may weild its authoritarian Islamic might, students and tech-savvy Iranians seem to be orchestrating a revolution using the Internet, using proxy servers after the government clamped down on site access. Iranian authorities are reportedly stalking blogs and Twitter accounts, but the overwhelming amount of citizen journalism continues to prevail.

Social networking sites have become such a major communication tool in the election crisis that the US State Department requested Twitter to delay a system upgrade on Monday. With foreign journalists banned from the streets of Tehran, social media provides one of the only pictures of the election fallout.

On Twitter, the #Iranelection hashtag has remained in its trending topics since the election protests began, proving the that people all over the globe are talking about the election while those inside Iran continue to let the world know what is happening.

Reports also indicate that some 12,000 videos are available on YouTube under the search term, “Iranian election.”

Worldwide Collaboration Spreads the Message

The Internet has made censorship virtually impossible.  As protests escalate, the Iranian government has implemented a predictable mode of operation – kick out the foreign journalists, restrict Internet use and limit cell phone texting.  There is one huge problem, however. Twitter subscribers are rearranging their time zones to Tehran and doing what they can to defuse Iran’s government.  With any source on the Internet, the challenge becomes sorting out fact from fiction and propaganda.

Iranian Christians follow Christ at great cost – beyond what many in the US can comprehend. Their urge to serve God is great even though they are discriminated against, arrested and mistreated by authorities.

Christians in Iran have difficulty finding and keeping a job and are then easily fired when it becomes known they are Christians.  Believers who start a business of their own have problems getting and keeping clients, making it very hard for them to gain an income. Believers who are active in churches or the home church movement are pressured; they are questioned, arrested and sometimes interrogated, tortured, put in jail and beaten.

According to Islamic law, an apostate (one who leaves the Muslim faith) must return to Islam or die. “The government wants to start punishing converts now with execution; women are to be imprisoned for life in such cases,” said Daryush.

Whether recent events are enough to prolong an effective opposition movement remains an open question.  That depends on how much they are willing to risk. If Iranian Christians are behind the movement, it could be everything.

Russ Jones is co-publisher of the award winning Christian Press newspaper and CEO of BIG Picture Media Group, Inc., a boutique media firm located in Newton, Kansas. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri and St. Paul School of Theology. As a former NBC TV reporter he enjoys reporting where evangelical Christian faith and news of the day intersect. He is also president of the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers. He may be reached at [email protected].