By Ashleigh Mattern
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been in turmoil since the June 12 presidential elections.
Two hours after the polls closed, authorities announced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the presidency with 60 per cent of the votes. The announcement prompted protests from supporters of main opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi.
All three of the opposition candidates have suggested the election was rigged, and more recently, former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami also noted their dissatisfaction with the results. Countries around the world, including Canada, also doubt the validity of the election results.
Protests occured almost every day for a week after the election. The Iranian government confirmed 20 deaths but other media sources have counted as many as 150. Tehran universities were closed, some websites were blocked, cell phone calls and text messages were jammed and rallies were banned.
There was a period of relative quiet starting at the end of June but on July 17 the protests started again.
On June 23, the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union executive released a statement condemning the attacks on the freedom of assembly in Iran.
“The USSU Executive Council is gravely concerned about the news of attacks on Iranian students as they attempted to voice protest over that nation’s recent election results,” reads the statement.
The U.K. paper The Guardian reported that 100 people were arrested after protests at Shiraz University on June 16, and the weekend before, 200 people were detained after protests at Tehran University. Some newspapers reported dormitory raids at Tehran University, where the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stormed into dormitories at night and arrested students on the spot.
“Students at universities tend to be ones who stand up and provide a voice for others,” said Warren Kirkland, USSU president. “We represent students here and I can’t imagine a situation where if there was a rally on campus that students would be put down. That would be terrible.”
There were several problems with the election that have led people to believe it may have been rigged.
In two of the provinces, more than 100 per cent of the population would have had to vote to account for the numbers. Although this is possible — Iranians are not required to vote in their home region, meaning they can vote in whatever region they happen to be in — it would still require a significant increase of voters.
In a third of the provinces, the results would have required that Ahmadinejad take all the conservative votes, all the centrist votes, all the new voters and 44 per cent of the reformist votes to win. Also, in the past three elections, conservative candidates were unpopular in the rural regions, but Ahmadinejad swept the board in many rural provinces.
“We’re hoping things change. It must be tough living in an environment like that. We’re extremely fortunate living in Canada.”
—USSU President Warren Kirkland
The USSU executive’s statement specifically mentions Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also mentioned these freedoms in his official statement: “Basic human rights, including freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, are being ignored. Demonstrations have been banned and demonstrators beaten. Injured protestors have been arrested when they arrive at hospitals for treatment. Journalists have been prevented from covering protests and subjected to arbitrary detention and arrest. Foreign press credentials have been revoked.”
Kirkland said that if something similar were to happen in Canada, he would hope the international community would question the actions of our government, especially in our hyper-connected world.
With the Iranian government banning international journalists from reporting on the protests, the Internet has become the main source of information for those interested. Hours after the first protests hit the streets, videos from cell phone cameras of protesters struggling with authorities could be found on the Internet.
Twitter has also been central to the dissemination of information, and people in Iran also allegedly used it to organize protests. It has also become a place to show support. The protestors wear the colour green to represent their dissent, taken from Mousavi’s campaign colour; to show support, some Twitter users have been using green profile photos.
The executive’s statement encourages students to write to their Member of Parliament, requesting the government take a stand against the Iranian government. Each executive member wrote to his MP, but the prime minister ended up making a statement at the same time they did.
Even Kirkland admits he’s not sure their statement makes an impact in the big scheme of things.
“Is the USSU coming out and speaking on something like this beneficial? I’m not sure,” he said. “We hope at the very least that we can inform students what is happening in Iran.”