Today Iran’s presidential elections are being held in circumstances where a substantial number of citizens do not have the right to be elected due to illegal discrimination, as well as discrimination sanctioned by laws. Women, who compose one half of the population, and religious minorities, are prohibited by law from being elected. Political and civil activists who are critical of or opposed to the regime are arbitrarily eliminated. In the presidential quasi-elections conducted by the Islamic Republic, ballot boxes are but tools in the hands of security and military forces. Ultimately, the person who best protects the ruling military-political factions’ power and wealth (instead of defending citizens’ rights) will be “elected”.
Ever absent in Iran’s elections is civil society and the fundamental human rights discourse. Rights defenders, and civil and human rights institutions, have been under tremendous governmental pressure in recent years, particularly in the past eight years, their activities having been increasingly restricted. The purpose of judicial, extra-judicial and the security apparatus’ manner of dealing with civil society activists in Iran, is to control and silence the voices demanding change and progress. Hundreds of arrest and detention orders for civil activists, and closing down media and civil institutions, are not, however, the only means that the government employs to control civil society. Iran’s rulers resort to all immoral and inhuman methods in order to implement their policies. For instance, they prevent the youth from exercising their right to education, for political, ethnic, and even religious reasons. Ethnic and religious minorities’ civil activists are constantly persecuted by the regime; access to government employment is impossible, and they are prohibited to conduct their religious rites. Nevertheless, human rights discourse has found its place, particularly among the youth. Today, in Iran’s pluralistic society, a large portion of society wants democracy and human rights, and aspires to peaceful and friendly relations with the rest of the world. The voice of this section of the population, however, is not heard in the world because of the reigning media censorship and persecution. Additionally, the Islamic Republic tries to cut off or bring under its control, this part of society’s contact with the rest of the world by any means.
The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF) feels duty-bound to do its share in assisting civil society activists in Iran and let this section of society’s voice be heard throughout the world, a voice that is the harbinger of democracy and human rights in Iran. Today, on the eve of Iran’s presidential “elections,” it is more important than ever to hear this voice and learn the demands of civil society as well as those of various layers of the Iranian people. Students and the student movement, who have always been at the forefront of the Iranian people’s freedom movement, are of particular significance. In the 2009 presidential elections, students issued a declaration in which they listed their demands of the candidates. ABF translated this declaration into English and published it for public viewing and access. The students’ emphasis on their mainly human rights-based demands had a profound impact on the post-elections protest movement, called the Green Movement. In the current elections, student activists in certain universities have made their demands known through another declaration. This declaration, which covers subjects ranging from foreign policy to the nuclear issue, contains the academic and civil society’s demands. In the students’ demands section, the following issues have been emphasized, among others:
- Freedom of various student organizations to conduct activities of different natures, including political and cultural, as well as student press and media.
- Freedom to organize and conduct peaceful gatherings in universities, and freedom from internal and external security forces’ interference for the purpose of creating an atmosphere of fear and terror with a view to silence the students.
- Recognizing all students’ right to education, and eliminating bans on education on political and belief-based grounds/excuses.
- Abolition of ethnicity, gender and belief-based discrimination, in particular, abolition of separation of the sexes in universities.
In the women’s demands section, emphasis has been made on issues such as “Iran acceding to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and [actually considering itself] bound by it” and “non-passage and non-issuance of any and all directives the contents of which eliminate women’s employment and educational opportunities.”
In the section addressing the rights of ethnic groups, students have called for attention to Iranian ethnic groups’ rights pursuant to international conventions, including UNESCO’s Convention Against Discrimination in Education of 1960, Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities of 18 December 1992, Articles 2 and 20 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, particularly Articles 2, 20, 26, and 27.
ABF is publishing the English version of the demands of a number of student activists on the occasion of Iran’s June 2013 presidential elections. In doing so, ABF seeks to draw the international community’s attention to these demands, and prevent, at least to some extent, the Iranian government from downgrading the election process, which is supposed to actualize the sovereignty of the people, into a mere marketing/propaganda tool, through the elimination of civil society.