Iran General NewsDissident Disputes Results, Calls Runoff Choices 'Bad and Worse'

Dissident Disputes Results, Calls Runoff Choices ‘Bad and Worse’

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New York Sun: The choice for Iranians tomorrow in the presidential runoff is between “bad and worse,” according to a leader of the July 9, 1999, Tehran University uprisings, Ahmad Batebi.
In a phone interview yesterday with The New York Sun, Mr. Batebi said, “The candidates were never elected by the people, the selection of the candidates are from the supreme leader.The people of Iran had no power in choosing any of them.” New York Sun

BY ELI LAKE – Staff Reporter of the Sun

WASHINGTON – The choice for Iranians tomorrow in the presidential runoff is between “bad and worse,” according to a leader of the July 9, 1999, Tehran University uprisings, Ahmad Batebi.

In a phone interview yesterday with The New York Sun, Mr. Batebi said, “The candidates were never elected by the people, the selection of the candidates are from the supreme leader.The people of Iran had no power in choosing any of them.”

Mr. Batebi is currently on the lam, avoiding authorities in Iran where he is still wanted for his crime of endangering the state’s national security. An image of him holding a bloody jersey graced the cover the Economist in 1999, and has been replicated on Tshirts and posters as a symbol of Iranians’ struggle for democracy. After his arrest in 1999, Mr. Batebi wrote an open letter in which he said his torturers at Evin prison “held me under [a drain full of excrement”> for so long I was unable to breathe and the excrement was inhaled through my nose and seeped into my mouth,” according to Amnesty International.

In a rare public feud in Iran, the results of last Friday’s race have been challenged by three of the losers. Four newspapers were shuttered this week for printing an open letter from a cleric, Mehdi Karrubi, that accused the guardian council and the state militia, or Basij, of rigging the election in favor of a former Tehran mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Authorities last week issued a decree banning text messaging, used by everyday citizens to rally support for reformists, and have started an investigation into the defamation of presidential candidates.

Mr. Ahmadinejad will face a former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in a runoff election Friday.

When asked for his impression of Mr. Rafsanjani, Mr.Batebi said, “He is wanted by Interpol for his role in the murder of Kurds at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin. He appealed to young people, but he has the blood of the young people on his hands in the country.”

In describing Mr. Ahmadinejad, Mr. Batebi said, “He is a founder of the Jerusalem force of the revolutionary guard. He has been nominated by the supreme leader who is concerned Rafsanjani has been too powerful.” American intelligence considers the Jerusalem force as the wing of Iran’s military responsible for funding and training anti-Israel terrorism.

Mr. Batebi, like many in the opposition and even several allies of the outgoing reformist president, Mohammed Khatemi, called for a boycott of last Friday’s election. In the interview yester day, he told the Sun that the boycott was far more successful than the official voting statistics suggest.

“The people of Iran were so grateful, and there was enthusiasm to boycott the election on last Friday,” he said. “A couple of the leaders of the Western country, especially President Bush and Condoleezza Rice, they issued a statement that this is an illegitimate government and it is a sham. It was a fantastic boost to the people of Iran and gave them enthusiasm to not cast their votes.

“When Western leaders like President Bush talk about human rights here, many people are losing their fear to go to the streets. We have been badly beaten before, but we can overcome this.”

Some commentators in the West, such as a University of Michigan professor, Juan Cole, have speculated that Mr. Bush’s statements before the election actually drove Iranians to the polls in protest. The interior ministry estimated the voter turnout at about 60%, while the unelected Guardian Council – the body responsible for counting the votes and vetting the candidates for office – said the figure was 70%.

Mr. Batebi discounts both figures. He said that 16 million people voted, but of the votes cast, 5 million were left blank in protest. Mr. Batebi estimates the real turnout closer to 30%, according to his friends in the interior ministry.

“We were intimidated in factories and on the streets and told we had to show we voted. Many went to the voting booths just to get their birth certificates stamped to show they voted, but they did not vote,” he said.

Mr. Batebi said yesterday that many in the opposition plan to spread the truth about the election in the coming weeks. Many bureaucrats in the interior ministry, which did not formally count the votes but has access to the tallies, got their jobs through President Khatemi.

A Washington-based historian and human rights activist, Roya Boroumand, said yesterday that she, too, believed the official vote count numbers were inflated. “The indications are the regime was extremely scared about the massive boycott,” she said.”Intimidation and threats are part of the Islamic Republic’s methodology to get people to vote. People spread the word, ‘If you don’t have the stamps on your ID, you will not get passports renewed easily.’ This is not official on paper. But it certainly works. I know tons of people who vote because they want this on their ID.”

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