The Quiet Crackdown Ahead of Iran’s Next Presidential Election

Ed note. I am pleased to welcome Nicholas Slayton to UN Dispatch. Nicholas is is a freelance journalist specializing in international relations and protest movements. — Mark 

Since the fractious 2009 presidential election, Iran’s government learned its lesson. No, not to respect human rights and listen to the will of the people, but to prevent any opposition from being heard.

This week, Iran arrested three reformist journalists ahead of June’s presidential election. The trio join more than a dozen other already jailed for their work. And authorities also banned a set of liberal publications as well. It’s part of an ongoing effort to protect the country’s leaders from another round of anti-establishment protests.

In 2009, the regime was challenged by the Green movement and candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who garnered millions of votes. The government thought that by simply blocking foreign press – and then manipulating the election in favor of incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – it could control the narrative and quell any dissent. That proved to show how out of touch the government was with modern media. Citizens and reporters turned to the Internet to spread the news globally, and even outsmarted the government when the regime tried to block online content. Eventually authorities used low-methods to stop high-tech dissent: they destroyed laptops and phones and beat or killed protesters.

Since then, the Iranian government decided to launch a slow-burn effort to stop the 2013 election from mirroring the 2009 one. Green Movement leaders, such as Mousavi, were arrested in 2011 after backing protests in support of Middle Eastern democratic uprisings. And now, authorities are grabbing journalists before voting even begins, using that and the memories of 2009 to prevent a massive opposition movement. And why? The regime knows it’s lost. It’s not going to be toppled in the next month, but its actions in 2009 delegitamized it in the eyes of Iranians. If it wants to avoid more protests, it’s going to make sure that the candidate it supports has little to no opposition.

Will the ongoing crackdown stop voters from turning out? It’s unlikely. This election is important; especially since no matter who wins, it will be a new president replacing Ahmadinejad. But the crackdown will affect who goes to vote, how open they are and how they react should another case of election manipulation happens. The regime wants to control the narrative and the outcome, with as little fanfare as possible. As June approaches, the crackdown will probably get worse.