May 30, 2013

Every nation has a fundamental right to determine its own destiny by allowing all citizens to participate in free elections and choose statesmen who oversee the country’s affairs.  In fact, Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights unequivocally acknowledges this right by stating that “everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.”

Furthermore, Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights reaffirms “the right to participate in public affairs, voting rights and the right of equal access to public service.”  By casting their ballots freely or through candidacy in free elections, all citizens, regardless of their color, race, religion, sex, ethnicity or beliefs, have the right to participate in the political process that determines the country’s future.

Nonetheless, the Islamic Republic of Iran has ignored repeated requests from the international community, failing to adhere to these principles and refusing to abolish barriers that restrict such rights.  There are, indeed, several major legal barriers in the Iranian constitution and the election laws all of which are noteworthy.

Article 99 of Iranian constitution is the biggest hurdle to having free elections in the country because it gives the Guardian Council the power to oversee all aspects of elections.  The Guardian Council consists of 12 members, six of whom are selected by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  This council has the power to approve or reject the candidacy of individuals who wish to run for key positions such as the presidency or membership in the parliament and the Assembly of Experts.  The Guardian Council’s broad authority to exercise expansive power over elections undermines the legitimacy of such elections and brings into question the validity of their results.

Another barrier is Article 115 which defines a number of personal qualities and requirements for presidential candidates.  This article states that the president must possess certain characteristics such as effective management skills, resourcefulness, valuable experience, integrity and piety.  A presidential candidate must also believe in the principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the country’s official religion.

Furthermore, Article 35 of election laws dictates unjustifiable requirements for such candidates.  For example, only individuals who are considered to be among the country’s “religious and political figures” may run for such office.

Obviously, these legal barriers have given the Guardian Council the power to handpick candidates as they see fit and limit the participation of all other citizens in the political process.  Even worse is the fact that Iranian women who constitute nearly half of the country’s population have been blocked from running for presidency because they aren’t “religious figures.”  As a matter of fact, during the last 34 years, no Iranian woman has been able to withstand the Guardian Council’s strict scrutiny to run for presidency.

Along the same lines, all opposition groups who don’t believe in “the principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran” have been eliminated from participating in elections.  In recent years, the restrictions set forth by Article 115 have been interpreted to include support for the doctrine commonly referred to as “the Guardianship of the Jurist.”  Henceforth, individuals who don’t “wholeheartedly” support this doctrine have been blocked from candidacy.  Interestingly enough, no one knows how the Guardian Council determines whether someone is “wholeheartedly” committed to such a doctrine or not.

In reality though, there are other requirements in Iranian law that also serve as barriers.  For example, another legal hurdle limits candidacy in elections only to individuals who believe in the country’s official religion, Shi’a.  Since Iran is a diverse and multi-cultural country, this requirement practically violates the rights of all ethnic and religious minorities and severely limits their participation in the political process.

Aside from legal barriers, the current state of affairs in the country doesn’t foster a healthy environment where free elections can be held.  There is no freedom of speech, assembly or association with political parties, and citizens are arrested, prosecuted and jailed for the slightest dissent.

According to Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”  Nonetheless, in addition to locking up thousands of political prisoners throughout the country, the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to hold Mir-Hussein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard and Mehdi Karoubi under house arrest.

Mousavi and Karoubi were presidential candidates who contested the election results in 2009, but instead of addressing their concerns, the regime has placed them under house arrest for more than 28 months without filing any formal charges against them.  In spite of repeated requests made by the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur, including the report released on Feb. 11, 2013, the aforementioned individuals remain on house arrest.

Beginning in February and March of 2012, a new wave of crackdowns spread throughout the country.  Reporters were arrested, and political prisoners who were on medical furlough were required to report back to prison.  Dissidents and critics of the regime were placed behind bars, and websites of opposition groups were filtered and blocked.  Even comments made by candidates who were approved by the Guardian Council were censored in the state-run television.  An official notice was also sent to all newspapers to warn them not to cross arbitrary “red lines” defined by government bureaucrats in the upcoming elections.  For the moment, the military-style crackdown of the opposition groups and increased executions contribute to an atmosphere of fear and anxiety throughout the country.

So it was under such circumstances that political campaigns began for the presidential election in 2013.  We strongly believe that the claims made by the Islamic Republic of Iran in regards to holding free elections is fundamentally false and dubious.  As it was mentioned before, the majority of Iranian citizens are not allowed to participate in the political process by either casting their votes or becoming candidates in elections.  As a matter of fact, the Minister of Interior Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar has lately announced that although “688 individuals have registered to run for the presidential election,” only eight of them were approved by the Guardian Council.  Even Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who was the fourth president of Iran and still continues to hold high positions within the regime’s infrastructure has been denied the right to run in the next presidential election.

Another concern in the upcoming election is the role of the military and the degree to which it is allowed to influence the country’s political process.  Recently, Ali Sa’idi, the Supreme Leader’s representative, has said, “The Revolutionary Guards define the framework and the standards within which elections are held in the country, and it is their inherent duty to sensibly and logically engineer the elections.”  So it is with great concerns that our organization warns against any interference exerted by the military on the election results.  Such actions are not only worrisome but also guarantee that elections will not be free and fair.

In conclusion, our organization reiterates that we will consider the official election results with skepticism and will question their validity due to three main facts.  First, the Islamic Republic of Iran has yet to designate an independent organization to monitor the upcoming presidential elections.  Second, the government has failed to address the questions raised against the result of elections in 2009.  Third, the officials have refused to recognize and respect basic freedoms such as every citizen’s right to assemble as well as participate in political parties.

Our organization also asks the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, to examine the circumstances under which the upcoming elections are being held.  We request the Special Rapporteur to present a report to the General Assembly, addressing our concerns and supporting our position that elections aren’t and can’t be free in Iran under current conditions.

Secretariat Human Rights Activists in Iran

May 30, 2013