The Emory University School of Law and a coalition of Iranian students co-hosted a daylong seminar Saturday to discuss the controversial Jun. 12 Iranian presidential election and the human rights abuses perpetrated in its wake.
Panelists included university professors and other experts on Iranian politics who framed the 2009 election in the context of Iranian political developments over the last 50 years.
On Jun. 12, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prevailed over Iranian opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi and two other challengers with 63 percent of the vote.
But a quick vote count and widespread allegations of voting irregularities left not only many Iranians but also many western nations questioning the election's validity.
Walter R. Mebane, Jr., a professor of political science and statistics at the University of Michigan, compiled a statistical analysis of the election.
"It seems the votes are coming from someplace else," he said. "The simplest explanation... seems to be ballot box stuffing."
"The speed with which the votes were counted…signaled to Iranians things were not on the up and up," said Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan and Mideast specialist.
But while Mebane said "the evidence points very, very strongly to the hypothesis of fraud," he conceded that a much deeper investigation and analysis are needed to reach better conclusions.
"It's possible, maybe even likely, that Ahmadinejad would have won a fair election," Noam Chomsky, noted author and linguist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said via video. "But it looks like the clerics didn't want to take a chance."
Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies at New York's Columbia University, said Ahmadinejad is part of a well-entrenched establishment that is not so easily removed.
"However rigged the election might have been, there are people who would have voted for Ahmadinejad," he said.
Nevertheless, protesters numbering anywhere from the hundreds of thousands to two million took to the streets on Jun. 13 in protest of the election's outcome across Tehran and the rest of the nation.
"What the western media... depicted were very angry people," Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist, said Saturday. "However, after the election, the people of the world found out about the peaceful nature of the Iranian people and how they can be civilised in asking for their rights."
Several panelists agreed Saturday that the protests went well beyond the call for fair elections, evolving into a fresh push for civil and human rights.
"People opposed this kind of election because what they claim is the right of the people has been limited," Ebadi said.
"They are peaceful, they are asking for their civil liberties," Dabashi said. "It begins with 'where's my vote.'"
As protests mounted, Moussavi filed a formal complaint with the Guardian Council on Jun. 14, claiming 14 million uncounted ballots were missing.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, announced the next day there would be an investigation into fraud claims, a process he said would last a week to 10 days. The Guardian Council announced Jun. 16 it would recount the votes.
The election board completed its partial recount on Jun. 29 and declared Ahmadinejad the winner.
During this time, government leaders cracked down violently on protestors, shooting into crowds, preventing street gatherings, arresting dissidents, and cutting off media access, moves widely denounced in other nations.
"Pursuant to the constitution... if people demonstrate peacefully, it is their right and no one can stop them," Ebadi said. "The government's claim there was no permit [to protest] and that they had the right to disperse the demonstration... was totally wrong." By Jun. 17, official government reports put the death toll at 32 but Jared Feuer, southern regional director of Amnesty International USA, said he believes the number killed could be much higher.
Once protesters were arrested, Feuer said, they were subject to torture in order to force confessions and allow the courts to bring them up on "trumped up charges".
"Torture is used to force people to say what a government wants them to say," Feuer said.
Ebadi said some of those arrested were not only killed and tortured but also raped and sexually assaulted.
The Guardian newspaper reported as of Jun. 17, 500 protesters had been arrested, including reformist politicians like Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organisation (MIRO) founder Behzad Nabavi, Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF) leader Mohsen Mirdamadi, and former president Mohammad Khatami's brother Mohammad-Reza Khatami, who was later released.
"The abuses are often deliberate and used as a show of force," Feuer said. "But over time, they move behind closed doors."
Mohammadreza Habibi, prosecutor-general in the central province of Isfahan, said Jun. 18 those behind the post-election unrest could face the death penalty, according to Reuters.
"We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution," Habibi said.
During a speech in front of supporters in Tehran on Friday, Ahmadinejad called on Iranian judicial officials to prosecute his chief political rivals for challenging his victory, The New York Times reported.
"We must deal with those who led these events," Ahmadinejad said. "Those who organised, incited, and pursued the plans of the enemies must be dealt with decisively."
Feuer said Saturday that between Jun. 12 and Aug. 5, Iran averaged two executions per day with 24 taking place on Aug. 5, Ahmadinejad's inauguration day.
"It must be known that if you commit a human rights violation in Iran, it will become known, it will be reported, and there will be consequences," Feuer said.
Feuer called on more monitoring and accountability and said those responsible for the violations should be charged, convicted, and removed from power.
"As long as human rights remain the means and the goal, this brutality will end in Iran," he said.
Ebadi called on the Iranian government to cease the beatings, shootings, and arrests; release all protesters from prison; and provide compensation to the victims of violence.
"There should be a reelection under the supervision of international election observers," she added.
Dabashi does not hold much hope for change anytime soon.
"Anybody who comes to you who tells you this regime's going to change in the next three days or months – don't listen to them," he said.