Green is more than a color. In Iran, green represents the Prophet Muhammad and the faith of Islam. So when Mir Hossein Mousavi, an artist and former prime minister, chose green as his presidential campaign color in June 2009, it was a bold statement: he wanted to take back the Islamic Republic.
Mousavi’s presidential campaign platform focused on repairing the damage of Ahmadinejad’s mismanagement of the economy, diplomatic relations, and human rights. He called for true social justice and freedom of expression. Young and educated Iranians flocked to Mousavi. He inspired optimism up and down the country.
Hundreds of thousands of supporters wearing green headbands, headscarves, armbands, and scarves, and waving green flags, rallied for Mousavi in Tehran. A young Baha’i woman, a photographer who wished to remain anonymous, recalled the hope in the days before the election. “We can change something,” she said, describing how people felt during the campaign. “Me, as a Baha’i, I was limited in everything in my life: education, work, everything you can imagine. But when someone gives you that hope that this might change, you begin to feel better. Everything is going to be better – everything is going to be good.”
A confidential poll conducted by the Ministry of Intelligence three weeks before the election put Mousavi ahead of Ahmadinejad. The government realized that Mousavi would likely win. But the official results, released on 13 June 2009, before counting was even finished, declared Ahmadinejad to be the winner by a landslide.
The Iranian people were outraged. Protesters took to the streets with green flags and placards. Mousavi addressed a rally of nearly 3 million disappointed supporters on 15 June. Their placards were painted with “Where is my vote?” in both Persian and English. The results were lambasted by the public as fraud.
The first peaceful protests tipped into chaos – helped by violence-minded dissidents as well as government agents provocateur and Basiji paramilitary groups. Dozens were killed in the course of the next few days.
The terror was palpable. “I went outside and there was a car on fire,” the young Baha’i woman remembered later. “I was scared. This was something I’d never seen before. I wanted to see more – to take photos. Everyone was so mad and there was this rage in their eyes. And then everyone was running. The Basijis launched teargas and we were trying to get away. The doors of the houses were opening so that the people inside could rescue those outside. A car stopped next to me, and the driver shouted, ‘Get in! Get in so I can save you!’ He didn’t care that I’m a girl, that I’m a Baha’i; he opened the door and he saved me.”
People around the world denounced the crackdown on the protesters. Reformists, activists, dissidents, students, and journalists were arrested in their hundreds by the Revolutionary Guard. Iranians from many backgrounds were accused of plotting with the foreign media to overthrow the government.
The authorities blamed everyone but itself for the violence. As had become typical, the government specifically targeted the Baha’i community, among others, when the time came to assign blame.
“It was midnight when five men came to my house,” the young Baha’i woman said. “They looked through everything, my drawers, my books, my closets, my parents’ room, the drawers and cabinets in the kitchen, the fridge. They told me to get dressed. ‘You have to come with us,’ they said. I didn’t know where I was going. They put a blindfold on me and I could just see feet, everyone’s feet; I saw a lot of combat boots.
“The night they arrested me, I was one of 10 Baha’is, and I could hear them – my cousin, my cousin’s wife, my friends. They started asking me questions about my life and about other people. We were there all night and they would come and shout; they wouldn’t let us sleep. They didn’t beat me. But I could hear them beating someone next to me. They asked me to write a letter saying, ‘I am a Baha’i, and the protests are my fault,’ that I protested against the Islamic Republic. ‘If you do that,’ they said, ‘we will let you go.’ I said no.”