How the Iranian regime crushed the reform movement in 2009

Protests continued throughout weeks with reports of clashes between demonstrators and security forces. (AP)
Updated 11 June 2019

How the Iranian regime crushed the reform movement in 2009

  • The 19-month violent period is described as ‘the edge of the abyss’
  • Demands for an independent recount of votes evolved into running battles between protesters and security forces

TEHRAN: A decade has passed since Iran held its most bitterly contested elections ever, the aftermath of which shook the country to its core over allegations of mass electoral fraud.

Massive demonstrations and counter-demonstrations by protesters and state supporters raged across major cities for 19 months, nowhere more so than in the capital Tehran, in what was later described by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the “edge of the abyss.”

As the world watched on in amazement, the so-called Green Movement that started out with “silent” demonstrations against ultra-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election as president and demands for an independent recount evolved into running battles between protesters and security forces.

The advent of camera-equipped mobile phones and the spread of the Internet-meant images of the protests fanned out quickly, causing the main focus of the demonstrations to switch from electoral fraud to repression.

The determination of the state to stamp out what it considered to be “sedition” at any cost, including mass trials and death sentences, gradually brought the movement to a standstill.

One of the reformists arrested in the first wave of the crackdown was journalist and activist Ahmad Zeidabadi.

“History will look back at the defeat of the Green Movement as a bitter event that left its supporters extremely and deeply frustrated and disillusioned,” said Zeidabadi, who was detained the day after the election.

Amir Mohebbian, a conservative politician and analyst, said the circumstances had changed in many ways since 2009 when “the state realized that the opposition and America” were behind the riots, and therefore used its “full powers to take control of the situation.”

The 2009 election campaign might well have been one of the most dynamic in the country’s history.

The one-on-one TV debates between candidates changed the mood of the campaign from festive to a bitter face-off, none more so than an explosive encounter between Ahmadinejad and his main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi.

On Friday, June 12 when polling stations opened, the turnout — officially at 85 percent — forced voting hours to be extended late into the night.

The first signs that something had gone awry came when Iranians realized the SMS messaging system had been disabled overnight.

Reformists soon claimed telephone lines to their vote tallying centers had been cut and many observers had not been allowed to enter polling stations.

Later on, some of Mousavi’s main campaign centers in Tehran were closed by security forces.

Mousavi held an impromptu press conference late at night and claimed victory, warning that any reports to the contrary would be a sign of fraud.

The final official count showed Ahmadinejad had won with nearly 63 percent of the vote, and within hours sporadic protests began in Tehran and soon spread to other major cities.

As the vote breakdown was published, reformists pointed to irregularities and claims of mass fraud gained traction.

Ahmadinejad’s victory rally on June 14 in which he called protesters “dirt and rubbish” riled many voters.

When Mousavi and the other reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who had officially gained 34 and 1 percent respectively, called for a counter rally in Tehran on June 15 the response by supporters was beyond expectations.

There is no official figure as to how many took part in the demonstration on that Monday but reports from different political factions claimed more than 3 million marched in silence onto Azadi (Freedom) Square.

Holding banners asking “Where is my vote?” they waved green flags, Mousavi’s official campaign color.

Demonstrations continued throughout the week with reports of clashes between protesters and security forces. The authorities demanded that candidates pursue complaints through the Guardian Council, tasked with supervising elections. A recount of 10 percent of ballot boxes was held, confirming Ahmadinejad’s victory, but his challengers contested the council’s neutrality and refused to accept its ruling.

On Saturday, June 20, another massive rally in central Tehran turned violent as protesters and security forces clashed.

Though local and foreign media were now banned from attending the rallies, many powerful pictures and videos emerged.

One depicted the shooting that day of Neda Agha-Soltan, a student in her 20s, whose death was described as “heartbreaking” by then US President Barack Obama.

That Saturday’s protests were among the bloodiest, only matched by the fierce clashes on Dec. 27, 2009.

Though gradually declining in size and frequency, the protests went on until February 2011, the last time Mousavi and Karroubi called for demonstrations before authorities placed them under house arrest, where they now remain.

It was never known how many people lost their lives or were wounded during the protests. The state says dozens were killed, mostly by “seditionists.”

For Ali Shakouri-Rad, one of the last active reformist politicians, Iranians have since moved on and have become “occupied with issues other than elections, such as the economy.”


Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”