Iran’s Guardian Council today ruled out the possibility of nullifying the country’s disputed presidential election that returned hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power, saying it could find no evidence of any “major” irregularities, according to a report carried by the website of the state-owned English-language Press TV satellite news channel.
“Fortunately, in the recent presidential election we found no witness of major fraud or breach in the election,” said Abbas-Ali Kadkhodai, the council’s spokesman, according to the report. “Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place.”
He said most of the irregularities alleged by the defeated reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi occurred before the election, which he suggested were outside the scope of the Guardian Council’s authority.
Mousavi sent the council a lengthy and detailed letter last week detailing election day irregularities as well as alleged abuses of power by Ahmadinejad before the vote. Kadkhodai did not address Mousavi’s allegation that ballot boxes were taken to military bases at one point on election day, where they were beyond the view of poll observers.
The rejection of a new vote came as government authorities stepped up their crackdown on protesters. Officials announced plans to set up a special court and warned that anyone who encouraged more demonstrations -- including Mousavi -- is subject to arrest.
In some of its sternest remarks yet, the Revolutionary Guard announced that anyone who continued to confront the security forces “will be considered a threat” to the system, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
“The guardians of the Islamic Revolution and the courageous Basiji,” a pro-government militia, “are determined to act strongly to return peace and tranquillity to society . . . and to clean the country of these plotters and hooligans,” said the statement, according to the agency.
Despite the warnings, Mousavi called on his supporters Monday to gather their strength and continue peaceful protests, sharpening his conflict with the government.
“The protest against vote-rigging and untruth is your right,” he said in a statement carried on a news website affiliated with his presidential campaign. “In your protest keep avoiding violence and be like kind, brokenhearted parents to poorly behaving children in the law enforcement forces.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered the protesters to halt their marches and ridiculed the vote-fraud allegations as he stood strongly behind Ahmadinejad in his Friday prayer sermon.
But the Guardian Council, whose members are appointed directly or indirectly by Khamenei, had earlier indicated that the vote count was indeed problematic. An initial probe showed that the number of ballots cast exceeded the number of registered voters in 50 locales, a discrepancy affecting 3 million votes or more.
Chatham House, a British think tank, published a study over the weekend in which it found irregularities by comparing Iranian presidential voting in 2009 and 2005 against the 2006 census published by the official Statistical Center of Iran. The report finds that two conservative provinces reported turnouts of more than 100% and that in a third of all provinces, this year’s official results would have meant Ahmadinejad won not only all the conservative voters from 2005, but also the centrist voters from then and all new voters -- as well as 44% of reformist voters.
Iran, under pressure from the West for its pursuit of advanced nuclear technology and support of Arab militant groups opposed to Israel, continues to reel from days of protests that culminated in chaotic fighting Saturday between security forces and demonstrators.
The fighting came after Khamenei ordered demonstrators off the streets in a prayer sermon interpreted as a call to semiofficial pro-government vigilantes to crack down on the rallies.
Iranian authorities have blamed the West for stirring up the unrest. In public statements and television broadcasts, they have particularly targeted Britain, which launched the popular BBC Persian-language news channel this year.
Following threats and the expulsion of the BBC Tehran bureau chief, the British Embassy ordered the families of its expatriate staff out of the country Monday.
“CNN and the BBC have set up a psychological war room,” Hasan Qashqavi, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, told reporters at a news conference broadcast on state television.
“As for BBC Persian and the VOA [Voice of America], their case is obvious,” he said. “Their objectives are, A, to weaken national solidarity and, B, to threaten Iran’s territorial integrity and divide Iran. This is the approved agenda that was promulgated to the VOA and BBC Persian, after their budgets were approved by the British Parliament and the U.S. Congress.”
But the eruption of violence and popular discontent over the election also illustrate a huge rift at the highest echelons of the country’s clerical leadership, between Khamenei and Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of a council that oversees the supreme leader.
Politicians and clergy have been huddling for days in intense discussions over ways to resolve the crisis, which has proved as divisive in the corridors of power as on the street.
On Monday, heavy contingents of anti-riot police safeguarded key downtown squares, including Haft Tir, where police using tear gas chased off a group of 200 or so demonstrators.
Black-clad anti-riot police could be seen dragging off two young men who were distributing political tracts downtown. Basiji militiamen in Haft Tir Square could be seen beating and carting off a young woman who refused to allow them to inspect her handbag.
There were signs elsewhere that the protesters’ enthusiasm was tapering off. Near Tehran University, police dragged off a young man in a green shirt, the official color of the Mousavi campaign, without raising the hackles of pedestrians, who erupted in anger during similar encounters in previous days.
Ebrahim Raisi, a top official in Iran’s judiciary branch, said tribunals will be set up after a preliminary investigation to process hundreds of “rioters” and “thugs” caught in security sweeps during the unrest.
“The judiciary will set up special courts for those cases which are passed on to the judiciary,” he said in comments broadcast on state television. “Hopefully, they will receive their legal punishments and our dear people will be informed of their punishments.”
In a pointed warning to leaders of the protest movement, he added that “any comment, any writing or any move that might provoke or encourage people to create insecurity will be considered crimes.”
One Ahmadinejad supporter in parliament called for Mousavi’s arrest. “Mousavi’s viewpoints and his illegal statements, which have encouraged and provoked public opinion [against the system], are considered to be a crime,” lawmaker Ali Shahrokhi, chair of the judiciary committee, told the Fars news agency. “This criminal action, which is against security and is religiously illegal, should be dealt with firmly.”
The Tehran prosecutor’s office said it had arrested at least 457 people in Saturday’s unrest, but a source inside Evin Prison said nearly 1,000 had been brought in. Among those arrested in an ongoing sweep of opposition figures was Ardeshir Amir Arjomand, Mousavi’s legal advisor.
Mousavi called on authorities to exercise restraint and transparency in dealing with his jailed supporters. “I expect the law enforcement forces to release the names of martyrs, wounded and arrested,” he said in his statement. “Otherwise they make the gap between themselves and the people wider.”
Mostaghim is a special correspondent.