President Hassan Rouhani addressed thousands of supporters of the Islamic Republic in downtown Tehran on the occasion of the Islamic revolution's 40th anniversary on Monday, claiming that "all Islamic Republic officials including its Supreme Leader, president, members of parliament and assembly of experts are elected by people's vote."
He made the claim while, the Supreme leader is chosen by clerics at the Assembly of Experts, and the president and members of the parliament and the assembly of experts are elected from among hand-picked candidates vetted by the Guardian Council.
Meanwhile, many of the key institutions of the country such as the Guardian council and Expediency Discernment Council are non-elected bodies and their members are appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or in the case of Guardian council, partly by the Judiciary chief who is also appointed by Khamenei.
While Rouhani in his speech called elections and ballot boxes "blessings for the Islamic Republic," critics say Khamenei himself was elected in 1989 without the nation voting for him and assembly of experts members appointed him as a "temporary leader" whose appointment should have been endorsed in a referendum that never happened.
Khamenei himself did not participate in the Tehran gathering. He does not show up at every revolution anniversary but this was the 40th year.
A man dressed as Cyrus the Great participates in the anniversary rally. On any other occasion this would not be allowed as a symbol of monarchy, but on this day a show of nationalism would not hurt the government's cause.
Rouhani said in the Islamic Republic "changes happen through ballot boxes. Candidates offer their ideas and plans and the people take their picks from among them." This comes while, for instance, there were less than two candidates to choose for every seat, and in some areas there was only one candidate for a seat in the latest Assembly of Experts elections in 2017 as a result of vetting that disqualified everyone with the slightest difference of view with the party line.
Speaking on the "freedom of political parties, and media in Iran," Rouhani obviously did not mention that many political groups are not allowed to be active and even the country's previous presidents are officially barred from media presence. Meanwhile, his comments about media freedom in Iran were made while according to international watchdogs such as Reporters without Borders, Iran is among the world's biggest prisons for journalists.
On February 7, Reporters without Borders said in a statement that at least 860 journalists were arrested, jailed and even executed in Iran between 1979 and 2009.
International human rights watchdogs maintain that thousands of Iranian political prisoners were killed in prisons in the late 1980s and thousands of others have been killed and tortured in Iranian jails in the past 40 years.
Two of Ayatollah Khamenei's sons walking with the procession.
Meanwhile, documents leaked recently, indicate that 1,700,000 men, women and children including, activists, religious minorities, opposition group members, journalists and citizen-journalists have been registered by Iranian Judiciary as prisoners at one point or another, said Reporters without Borders.
On the other hand Rouhani's comment about media freedom contradicted his own statement on January 21 when he said social media platforms are popular in Iran because there is no freedom in the country's official media.
Elsewhere in his speech, Rouhani spoke about the United States' and Israel's pressures on Iran, but added that "the enemies plots during the past year have been folded and they will not reach their objectives." He also described Iran's military intervention in the region as helping other nations. "Iran helped Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen to move toward freedom and determining their own fate," he said.
He also said that "Iran does not need anyone's permission" for developing missiles, adding "We will continue our path powerfully." U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had called for "stricter limitations on Iran's missile program" in a February 7 tweet. Earlier, the European Union had also called on Iran to stop its ballistic missile program.
As Rouhani was speaking at Tehran's Azadi square, several rows in front of the podium were occupied by military personnel to protect him from possible attacks and keeping everyone else at a distance, while the podium was set up at a higher level, making it hard to reach. This was possibly a measure taken bearing in mind the deadly attack on a military parade in southwestern Iran in September which claimed two dozen lives.
This video sent to Radio Farda by a citizen journalist shows government provided buses to transport people to the anniversary ceremonies.
On the other hand, a spot-check of several Iranian state-run TV channels did not indicate any increase in the number of people taking part in the rallies. Videos received by Radio Farda and anecdotal information indicated groups of people were bussed in to certain stations along the Azadi Avenue where arrivals were checked and attendants were often offered refreshments.
Meanwhile compared to the size of crowds taking part in protest rallies in 2009, the crowd appeared to be much smaller in numbers as Monday's rally was limited only to a shorter segment of a route; about two miles long. The state TV, however, praised attendance at the rally, saying repeatedly that officials should respond to people's loyalty by trying to solve their "numerous problems," without elaborating on what these problems are.