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“The regime has the blood of the country on its hands”: in Iran, students massively boycott the elections

“You know that a simple interview could get me sent to prison for espionage.

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“The regime has the blood of the country on its hands”: in Iran, students massively boycott the elections

“You know that a simple interview could get me sent to prison for espionage. How do I know you are a real journalist? The messages from Elmas, a student at a university in Tehran, are suspicious, and rightly so. A friend of his was recently arrested for corresponding with what he thought was a foreign journalist about the situation in Iran. The press correspondent actually happened to be an undercover police officer, who had the Iranian sent straight to detention. Since then, Elmas has had no news. “The whole regime has its blood on its hands,” she storms. “And after that, they expect us to go and vote for them as if nothing had happened?”

The abstention promises to be a record on March 1, when the 61 million Iranian voters are expected at the polls to elect the 290 representatives to Parliament and the 88 members of the Assembly of Experts, religious people who will be responsible for designate the future Supreme Leader. If the last legislative elections of 2020 had already seen only 42.5% of Iranians go to the polls, these 2024 elections are the first since the unprecedented popular uprising in the fall of 2022. The country was inflamed after the death of Mahsa Amini under the blows of the moral police, for “inappropriate wearing of the veil”. Although the demonstrations were violently suppressed by bloody repression by the regime, the seeds of protest are still present.

The week before the election, more than 300 Iranian political, cultural and social figures signed a call for a boycott, declaring that they would “not accept this staging”. The Reform Front, the main coalition of reform parties (represented in the Iranian government), has also declared that it is not presenting any candidate in these “meaningless” elections. This exhortation to abstain was also relayed by numerous student associations, despite the screed of repression which weighs on centers likely to still harbor embers of protest. A few hours before the opening of the elections, Tehran announced the arrest of several dozen activists critical of the government.

“It’s very simple,” insists Elmas, “no one is happy here. In this so-called Republic, people are starving or soon will be because of skyrocketing food prices, and everyone has lost at least one loved one at the hands of the moral police. And on top of that, every word we say can be reported to the regime. Basically, we’re all on borrowed time.” An unacceptable situation which justifies for students, already at the origin of the wave of demonstrations in the fall of 2022, the continuation of protest actions against the regime... Although they will be more discreet. “We write on bus stops, on bank notes, we distribute leaflets to passers-by in the streets,” relates Mani, who studies engineering in Tehran.

The goal? According to Mani, “to show that this regime has no legitimacy for us.” For the student, none of the few “moderates” who passed the filter of the Council of Guardians of the Constitution to be candidates found favor in her eyes. “Reformers and Conservatives? These are two sides of the same coin” stamped with the regime’s seal, she deplores. For her part, Tara, a student at an Iranian university, wants to report the words of Mahsa Amini's mother, involved in the protest movement. “She told us that in a country led by a regime that so despises freedom of expression, if voting could change something, they would not let us go to the polls,” confides the young woman who agrees with these comments. .

The Iranians then spread the word: on election day, Tehran must then resemble a “dead city”. “No one in the streets,” Mani explains, “to prevent the police from taking us away and forcing us to vote.” A symbolic issue is at stake behind this deserted town. “If there are people in the streets to go to the polls, the regime will use these images to establish its so-called popularity by saying that people are flocking to vote,” laments Mani. “They are ready to do anything to keep face, especially in front of the international community.”

Also readIn Iran, Armita Garavand, died because she did not wear the veil

For Mahnaz Shirali, a sociologist specializing in Iran, these questions of images will soon no longer be a concern. “The Islamic Republic is very good at using smart technology,” certifies the researcher. “They are already using artificial intelligence to create videos of smiling crowds which they broadcast to pretend to be a regime that pleases its populations. For the moment, we can still discern the computer's touch, but within a few months, it will become impossible to distinguish a video that was actually shot from an AI video.

So what can we expect from this election? The Iranians are not fooled. “Voting participation figures are invariably manipulated,” explains Mahnaz Shirali. “The results of today’s election are beyond doubt.” Statements corroborated by the students interviewed. “I don’t hope for anything from these legislative elections,” admits Mani. “The government’s changes can only go from bad to worse.” But the young woman still believes in the “Woman, Life, Liberty” movement, which ignited her country a year and a half ago. “It was miraculous to be together,” she recalls. And to affirm: “The revolution can only come from Iranian society. And what does it matter if between now and then, we pay the price for a freedom to which we are entitled.”

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