Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Iran

Iran Prepares For June Presidential Vote By Stepping Up Security Measures

Iranian authorities are doing their utmost to ensure that there is no repeat of the daily unrest that followed the 2009 presidential election. (file photo)
Iranian authorities are doing their utmost to ensure that there is no repeat of the daily unrest that followed the 2009 presidential election. (file photo)
By Golnaz Esfandiari
Iran's clerical establishment has made it clear that it will not condone the insubordination that marked the country's last presidential contest and has taken steps over the interim to ensure the 2013 election goes as planned.

Touting the importance of a "peaceful" vote on June 14, officials have said in recent months that "sedition," a term they use to refer to the mass demonstrations that followed the 2009 election and the political forces that organized them, will not be tolerated.

Any semblance of political opposition has been marginalized or eliminated since the last vote, with prominent opposition leaders Mehdi Karrubi and Mir Hussein Musavi under house arrest, and reformist parties banned.

Warnings were also directed toward the "deviant current" -- a term used to describe the close circle around President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

The outgoing president's preferred successor, Esfandiari Mashaei, was taken out of the running recently by the powerful Guardians Council, which approves the final list of candidates.

Likewise, the proposed candidacy of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pillar of the establishment who gave some support to the opposition camp following the controversial 2009 election, was denied.

Should anyone object, the regime has a number of tools at its disposal to hammer home its message, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Intelligence Ministry, and the Basij militia.

"Due to the preparedness of intelligence bodies and security forces, the events that took place in 2009, will not be repeated," Ahmadi Moghadam, Iran's police chief, said in comments reported by the ISNA news agency on May 22.

'A Decisive Response'

Hossein Aryan, a U.K.-based military and security expert, shed some light on what Moghadam was referring to.

"In pursuit of [their] aim, [the authorities] have been quite active in terms of gathering information, gathering intelligence, and preparing themselves for likely unrest following the election or before that," he said. "In doing that, as it has been practiced in the past, the IRGC has been using its intelligence wing and also the paramilitary force, Basij, to gather information."

Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, on the sidelines of an April 9 cabinet meeting, said no mercy would be shown to anyone -- domestic or foreign -- who tries to disrupt the election.

"Certain groups and streams, as well as intelligence agencies from outside the country, may intend to take action to create problems for us," the semiofficial Fars news agency quoted him as saying. "And if this happens they will be met with a decisive response."

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Moslehi said heavy monitoring was being conducted to prevent possible seditionist moves.

Also in April, IRGC Intelligence officer Mohammad Javad Khoshnavaz said the corps was eyeing the "enemy's movements" carefully. "We are ready to intelligently counter a new sedition," he said, while expressing the hope that new protests would not take place.

This week, Colonel Rasool Sanaeirad, who heads the IRGC's political office, was quoted by Fars as saying that the election would be "unpredictable," and warning that a "possible riot" could spread from Tehran to other regions of the country.

Underlining the efforts to prevent such unrest, Iranian media this month published pictures of a training maneuver held in Tehran on May 14 by a unit affiliated with the IRGC.

The Ali Mohammad Security Brigade was shown engaging in what appeared to be mock street battles against rioters, adding to similar exercises carried out in the capital since the 2009 protests.

Disrupting News And Information

There are signs that the Iranian authorities are also attempting to hamper Iranians' ability to obtain and send news and information.

In recent weeks, Iranian authorities have disrupted the use of most circumvention and privacy tools that allow users to bypass state-imposed Internet filtering already in place.

On May 10, Mohammad Saleh Jokar, a member of the parliamentary committee of national security and foreign policy, said the government would block attempts to "instigate people as we witnessed in 2009," according to Cairo's Al-Ahram Online.

Washington D.C.-based researcher Collin Anderson believes Iran will maintain a slow and heavily filtered Internet connectivity.

"What they try to do is have as much control as possible without collateral damage or economic cost," he said. "So I think that, if they feel for the most part they can cut off the things that they don’t want people going to -- such as independent media or international broadcasters or social networks -- that [those people] won't feel compelled to."

Pressure on the press intensified several months ago, with the January arrest of more than a dozen journalists from at least six media outlets. Intelligence Minister Moslehi said the arrests were an attempt to "prevent the emergence of sedition prior to the elections."

More recently, the Kalame news outlet reported this month that the Intelligence Ministry had summoned the editors of newspapers and instructed them about "red lines" they shouldn’t cross in their election coverage.

Among the no-no's listed by the opposition website were interpreting the supreme leader's comments and presenting a dark picture of the situation in the country.

Kalame also reported that the Intelligence Ministry had given its approval to criticism of Ahmadinejad.

RFE/RL's Guide To Iran's Presidential Election

Reza Moini, an Iran expert with the French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, suggested that other methods to constrain the media are also being employed.

"The pressure includes, according to our information, the summoning, interrogation, and arrest of journalists and also threats against them," he said. "We also have information that some journalists have recently been sent into internal exile, meaning that [the authorities] have forced some journalists to leave Tehran or other cities where they work."

The formation of a new election-monitoring unit called Fajr has also been announced, with the task of monitoring satellite networks, opposition websites, and social-networking sites.

In late April, Deputy Culture Minister Mohammad Jafar Mohammadzadeh said that the surveillance of media would increase in the run-up to June 14.

"We are of course hoping that the press will also have greater self-control and publish the news responsibly," Mohammadzadeh was quoted by Fars as saying.

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