The Iranian government has reacted to the protests over the June 12 presidential election results with increased repression and force.
Over the past two weeks more than 1,000 reformist figures, political activists, journalists, students, and critics have been arrested in Iran. Some have been forced to make false confessions while others are reportedly under pressure.
A number of activists have been forced into hiding because of the crackdown. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari spoke to one of them, a student leader, who discussed the postelection crisis and the future of the "Green" movement.
RFE/RL: A number of political activists have gone into hiding as a result of the postelection repression, but critics might say that this is the time when people such as yourself should work with others and be part of the movement for change in Iran. How would you respond to such criticism?
Student leader: Crises are a good opportunity for the establishment to repress the civil society with more force and prevent it from continuing its existence. Iran's establishment is facing a crisis on the domestic and international scene regarding its legitimacy and its acceptance; the establishment feels powerful only through the use of repression.
What happened in Iran in the June 12 vote is clearly visible in this context. The establishment prevents those with whom it has disagreements from sharing power and it gets ready to repress any possible reaction and in this context it uses the theory of "colored" or "velvet" revolution to repress the civil society and political activists and opposition members.
Members of Iran's civil society had the least influence in the postelection protests and in general all the reactions were spontaneous and organized by the people themselves. Civil-society bodies did not participate in the protests as an organization, its members participated in the demonstrations individually but if detained they wouldn't be treated by the government as other demonstrators, but they would be used by the establishment as tools to prove their theory that elements of the Velvet Revolution have been receiving orders from foreign countries -- so that is the reason why many civil-society activists preferred to go [into hiding] during this crisis situation.
In Iran we always use this joke to describe this situation: they say that a group sees a fox that is running away, they ask him, "Why are you running away?" The fox says, "The ruler has ordered that all foxes that have three testicles be killed." They note, "But you have two testicles," and the fox responds, "But first they kill and then they count."
This is exactly the situation activists in Iran are facing. Any crisis is an excuse to suppress them; their crimes have been decided beforehand.
If social and political activists could have an impact on the current crisis situation and organize the masses, they wouldn't be afraid to be present in the demonstrations and protests but the issue is that these rallies are completely spontaneous and activists don't have much influence on them.
Crackdown On Demonstrators
RFE/RL: As far as you know, how many students have been killed in the postelection violence -- including the attacks by Basijis on student dormitories in Tehran and other cities -- and how many have been arrested?
Student leader: One of the first things that the establishment did was to arrest those who could gather some figures and information. One thing that's clear is that that the crackdown has been to such a degree that the establishment itself has been forced to officially announce that 20 people have been killed. This is unprecedented and indicates that the figures of the dead must be much more higher than this.
From what we've seen and based on what those who have been released have said the number of arrested who are kept in the four security sections of Evin prison should be around 3,000 people. Maybe it will never be possible to obtain the exact figures of dead, injured, and those arrested but the real figure is definitely higher than the official figures.
RFE/RL: What do you know about the situation of those who are in jail? Several have reportedly been forced to make false confessions.
Student leader: On the bodies of many of those who have been released there isn't even one healthy spot left and this indicates that they have been beaten up harshly. Those who have been able to call their families have indicated that they are under the most intense physical and psychological pressure, including interrogations during the night. They're being prevented from resting, and they're beaten up in interrogations [to force them] to agree to give interviews to state news agencies. No [state] organs are giving their families an answer about their situation. All this is to crush the families and the prisoners and make them surrender.
RFE/RL: Is there still rage and anger among the youth? Or is it fading and turning into despair and hopelessness?
Student leader: Maybe the best way to describe what people feel in this situation is that anger is a result of pain and suffering, and the pain and suffering is itself a result of not being able to do something useful. The anger and anxiety will never fade away and it will reveal itself at any opportunity.
RFE/RL: How will the current crackdown impact the so-called Green movement?
Student leader: The movement for democracy in Iran did not begin with the June 12 vote or end under the crackdown. This movement has been constantly repressed over the years and it is likely that it will be repressed even more in the coming years. But it will definitely not stop and it won't end until it reaches its goal.
Future Of Opposition
RFE/RL: What do you expect from presidential candidates Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi? What, in your view, should they be doing in the current situation?
Student leader: Musavi and Karrubi have some attractions for the masses, but they definitely lack the qualities of a real leader and the informed segment of society [civil society] is very much aware of this fact. In fact, this historic opportunity has not ended yet and these gentlemen and others, including former President Mohammad Khatami, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Gholam Hossein Karbaschi [former Tehran mayor and Karrubi's campaign manager] and former Interior Minister Abdollah Nuri can save this historic opportunity by creating a [strong] coalition.
The formation of such a coalition would be the biggest result of the Green movement. This coalition can, by lobbying, have a piece of the power pie and as a strong opposition it could strengthen civil society.
RFE/RL: How do you think the international community should respond to the current situation in Iran?
Student leader: We shouldn't expect the international community to be more Catholic than the pope, but maybe bringing up the issue of human rights during international negotiations would be a great help, along with a democracy coalition of Iranians outside the country that would be in line with the one in Iran.