As election nears, real freedom is a distant wish for Iran’s people

On 19 May, the people of Iran will head to the polls to elect their new President. Yet, behind this false veil of democracy, Iranians’ personal freedoms and rights continue to be eroded by a restrictive religious regime scared of the power of its own people.

Like many unpopular systems, Iran’s revolutionary theocracy thrives only when it subjugates the will and desires of its people. The clerics have two ways of doing this: either crush the desires by force, or provide a fake valve to release pent-up pressure while changing nothing. Iran’s ‘democratic’ process is the latter.

While using force to keep the regime in power is more dramatic, the valve is potentially more dangerous to the regime, particularly if it malfunctions. And there is no chance that the clerics will allow anything to go wrong with this election.

The last time this happened was in 2009, when the Green Movement came out in numbers to protest the allegedly rigged election of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, a regime henchman, in place of the more popular opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The repression was swift and brutal, with the severity of the response echoing the seriousness of the threat to the regime.

The lesson has been learned since 2009, and the steps taken to counter any protest have resulted in a neutering of Iran’s claim to be democratic. Last week, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei proclaimed that anyone protesting against the election “will definitely be slapped in the face”. The real punishment will be much worse.

Khamenei also adopted one of the regime’s favourite tactics, that of blaming outsiders for any troubles in Iran. He warned his audience of paramilitary Revolutionary Guards cadets that enemies of Iran seek “to create tension and sedition to disrupt order and security”. He made a point of alluding to US billionaire George Soros, whose name is often linked to other conspiracy theories. There is no evidence of any outside interference in Iran’s election; indeed, it is so closely controlled that there would be no opportunity to interfere even if others tried.

The most shocking part of Iran’s clampdown on individuals’ rights is not, however, the lack of political freedoms. Throughout Iranian society, the regime attacks the public’s freedom of worship, freedom of speech and women’s rights, arresting dissidents, civil activists and independent journalists. Political prisoners continue to languish in Iranian prisons.

The mullahs’ excesses are not limited to their own nationals. Foreign dual nationals, including American and British citizens, are slung in jail for non-existent crimes, converting ordinary citizens into pawns in the international game of political chess favoured by the clerics.

Iran’s clerics are used to using repression as a weapon against their opponents. There is no reason to see why this election will be any different.