Tehran, February 11, 1979: the Shah of Iran is knocked from power, ending fifty four years of rule. A day that marks the beginnings of the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini take control of the Iranian capital.
Fast forward 31 years to today, February 11, 2010, and Iran is set for major confrontations between the government and opposition protestors. Protestors angry about, amongst many things, the result of the presidential election held in June last year.
Officially Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the June 12 elections. However, leaked papers indicate opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi won over Mehdi Karoubi, with Ahmadinejad running third. The government also admitted that in some provinces voter turn-out was higher than 100%. These provinces were all won by Ahmadinejad.
Protests followed all over the world, including Australia where a number of demonstrations were held, calling for democracy and an end to the human rights abuses occurring in Iran.
Cries of “Where is my vote?” and “Election not selection” could be heard through the streets of capital cities in the following weeks and months.
A number of these demonstrators protested in Iran during the 1979 Revolution which left Iran with its current theocratic form of government.
One of those protestors was Kamal, who is unable to return to Iran due to fear of being arrested over his actions in 1979:
“We were calling for a Democratic Republic of Iran but Khomeinei gathered more support and we got an Islamic Republic of Iran” Kamal says.
With an amount of sadness in his voice he adds, “so many people died over one little word”.
This “one little word” has had 31 years of consequences for Iranians and people continue to die because of it.
On January 28 this year two demonstrators were hanged after being sentenced to death by the Tehran Revolutionary Court accused of being Mohareb (enemies of God) and plotting to overthrow the Islamic regime. They are the first of eleven handed the death sentence to be executed.
They were arrested in the wake of the post-June 12 election protests and "belonged to the monarchist group Tondar (the Kingdom Assembly of Iran)” according to the Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi.
Confirming their deaths on state-run television he added, “during their trials they confessed to obtaining explosives and planning to assassinate officials.”
Lawyer for one of the hanged, Nasrin Sotoudeh denied her client (Arash Rahmanipour) had anything to do with the post-election riots. She told news agency AFP "he was arrested in Farvardin (the Iranian month covering March-April) before the election and charged with cooperation with the Kingdom Assembly."
Sotoudeh was prevented from representing her client at what she called his "show trial" in July last year. "He confessed because of threats against his family," she said, adding that she was shocked at the news of the executions because both she and her client's family had been waiting for word from the appeals court.
Rahmanipour’s father first heard of his son’s execution during the Tehran prosecutor‟s television appearance.
Approximately 5000 anti-government protestors have been arrested since the elections.
Protests in other countries have been free of the heavy crackdown by authorities that has been seen in Iran.
In Australia, events have been organised in Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide and Sydney.
The “Free Iran Project” in Sydney has run a series of car rallies called “The Green Road‟ and will hold a candle-light vigil outside Sydney Town Hall on February 11.
On the aims of the protests in Sydney, local Iranian organiser Kaveh explains:
“We’d like to raise awareness to lobby this issue with the Australian Government, asking them to condemn the imprisonment, torture and execution of protestors in Iran...We want to see an Iranian Republic, with a referendum to decide the type of government desired.”
Debate over the possibility of a revolution to depose the current regime is strong. On this, Kaveh remains cautiously confident:
“The people are standing up to the regime and the Republican Guards...The regime is on life support and it will just take the right conditions and people to flick the switch.”
However, Dr Leanne Piggott, Deputy Director at the University of Sydney Centre for International Security Studies points out:
“It’s important to distinguish between the types of opposition in Iran. Those within the current regime do not oppose the regime per se (the Islamic Republic form), just the current President and the “institution‟ of the Republican Guards. So the likelihood of a revolution is very low indeed.”
Dr Piggott adds, “as far as this current government is concerned, I think this has a shorter shelf life than it would have liked, but it’s impossible to say when its end will occur.”
Emma James is a Sydney-based freelance journalist and photographer. She developed a strong interest in Middle Eastern politics while studying international relations at university.