Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has called on Iran’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to hold free elections. “They have to have a free election. ... They have to allow different political parties to have their activities freely in the country. And this is what [Assad] has promised,” Mr. Salehi said at a recent news conference.
Mr. Salehi’s pious counsel about free elections for Syria is replete with irony. First, it comes from a top official of a regime which supports Assad’s horrific repression against the Syrian people with equipment, training, advice, and, according to several sources, personnel on the ground.
Secondly, the Iranian regime does not allow free elections for its own people. In Iran, an unelected body, the Guardian Council, screens candidates for legislative office, and, by law, international observers are barred from the country. After the presidential election in 2009, millions of Iranians took to the streets claiming that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected to a second term in an election marked by fraud and unfair tallying. Protesters were met with batons and bullets; dozens were killed; thousands arrested. In prison they faced systematic torture, including sexual assault.
In the years following the election, the regime ramped up its campaign against journalists, students, human rights lawyers, women’s rights activists and labor leaders. President Ahmadinejad’s political rivals in the presidential campaign, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, have been under house arrest on unspecified charges for nearly a year -- cut off from all contact with the outside world.
Now the Iranian regime is gearing up for new legislative elections in March. How? By silencing Iranian journalists and bloggers. Since the start of 2012 alone, at least 10 journalists and bloggers have been arrested.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a statement that the U.S. is “deeply concerned by the alarming increase in the Iranian regime’s efforts to extinguish all forms of free expression and limit its citizens’ access to information in the lead-up to March parliamentary elections.”
She noted the international community has repeatedly raised concerns “regarding Iran’s human rights record, calling on [Iran] to abide by its commitments to protect the rights of all its citizens and uphold the rule of law, including the conduct of a transparent electoral process that permits citizens to make their voices heard. We urge Iranian officials to respond to these calls.”
Free elections for the people of Syria? Absolutely. But the Iranian people deserve them as well.