[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/21/iran.election/art.iran.hose.jpg caption="Demonstrators are sprayed with a water hose Saturday by Iranian security forces."]
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/21/iran.election/art.gas.afp.gi.jpg caption="Protesters try to protect themselves from tear gas fired by police Saturday in Tehran. "]
Watching the events in Tehran unfold over the past week has conjured up tragic memories of what took place in Tiananmen Square more than 20 years ago.
In 1989, China's largest pro-democracy protests in history ended when military tanks rolled onto Tiananmen Square (translated literally as ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’) and armed Chinese troops opened fire on crowds of more 1 million people.
The tragedy sadly resulted in the deaths of between 180 to 500 people, according to a 1989 U.S. State Department briefing on the matter.
Following the violence, the government conducted widespread arrests to suppress protesters and their supporters, cracked down on other protests around China, banned the foreign press from the country and strictly controlled coverage of the events.
That sounds eerily familiar to what we are seeing transpire on the streets of Tehran, Iran today.
In the aftermath of the hotly-contested presidential election between hard-line incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reformist candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, we have seen hundreds of thousands of average Iranians take to the streets of Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and other Iranian cities. Iranians are demanding their votes to be accurately counted - and certified. It is the closest thing that Iran has seen to a ‘velvet revolution’ in recent historical memory.
Through the use of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, average Iranians are putting their own lives on the line serving as ‘citizen journalists’ to report on events in their country. The Iranian government has cracked down on international news organizations, creating an essential media blackout.
According to BBC World News, the BBC Persian television service into Iran has been blocked with "heavy electronic jamming" that has become "progressively worse" and is originating from within Iran’s own borders.
"Any attempt to block BBC Persian television is wrong and against international treaties on satellite communication. Whoever is attempting the blocking should stop it now," said BBC World Service director Peter Horrocks in a recent interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP).
During a highly anticipated recent Friday khutba (prayer sermon) at Tehran University, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei defiantly defended the elections by pointing out that the 11-million vote difference between Ahmadinejad and his principal opponent, Mir Hossein Moussavi, was too large to have been manipulated by vote-rigging.
However, with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Iranian men, women and children taking to the streets, the only thing that seems quite clear is that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has over-estimated his own waning political influence within Iran today.
In clear - and brave - defiance of the Ayatollah’s mandate, reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi has stated that he is preparing himself for "martyrdom" and is quoted as telling supporters to "protest" and "not go to work”, according to a recent CNN article.
Like the Chinese military crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square more than 20 years ago, today’s Basij (literally translated as ‘mobilization’) militia volunteer force in Iran is comprised of brutish government loyalists. The Basij is often called out onto the streets at times of crisis to dispel dissent. A 2005 study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies estimates that there are 90,000 full-time, uniformed, active-duty Basij members and 300,000 reservists.
Using batons and water cannons, they are trying to quash the voices of millions of peaceful Iranians who are only using text-messages, Facebook and Twitter in an attempt to share their stories with the rest of the world. CNN reported over the weekend that that “unconfirmed reports put the death toll as high as 150,” mainly due to Basiij violence against peaceful protesters.
In terms of certifying the actual election results between Ahmadinejad and Moussavi, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that any election certification by Iran’s own election officials will not be seen as legitimate by the nation as a whole.
Since the United Nations no longer officially provides election monitoring for its 192-member nation states, it becomes the collective moral imperative of our international community to call for the UN Security Council to immediately pass a binding resolution calling for outside international election monitors from either the European Union (EU) or Organization for Security and Co-Operations in Europe (OSCE). These bodies could help certify the election results to help bring about some political closure to the bedlam taking place on the streets of Iran.
Until there are international observers on the ground in Tehran to certify the election results within the parameters of international law, we are sadly going to continue to see Facebook and Twitter images showing a continuation of the Middle Eastern version of Tiananmen Square for the foreseeable near future.
In the meantime, let us all pray for the safety and security for every person in Iran and hope that it does not take an unknown ‘Tank Man’ with grocery bags defiantly standing in front of a tank for the world to realize that Iran is sadly witnessing it’s own millennial version of Tiananmen Square.
Editor’s Note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of http://www.TheMuslimGuy.com and is a contributing editor for Islamica magazine in Washington.
YouTube Channel: www.YouTube.com/ArsalanTV
A.I. on Facebook at: www.Facebook.com/TheMuslimGuy
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