For Iranians, presidential elections are a symbolic game

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, elections in Iran are a symbolic game. Unlike the government advertisements, or propaganda, showing old footage of Iranians at some polling stations that now are typically empty, the people of Iran don’t have any role in electing a candidate to represent them. Whoever the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, decides to be the president of Iran will only be in power as a delegate who follows the rules of Khamenei.

Throughout Iran, it is our experience that there are only a few minority groups who support the government and go to the polls willingly on Election Day. However, most ordinary Iranian citizens are forced to put their ballots in the box on Election Day or face losing their government benefits.

To vote in the United States, the rules vary, some states do not even require citizens to show any form of identification in order to cast a vote. It has no bearing on whether or not they will continue to be free or receive Medicare or Social Security checks. In Iran, when a citizen goes to the polls to vote, a government representative stamps his or her identification card, noting who voted and who didn’t. Those who don’t have that stamp in the card will become known as “anti-government” for not supporting the government. This “anti-government” label can prevent an Iranian citizen from being accepted to a school, or anything that is related to the government, they may face rejection without the voting stamp. This also has a negative impact on Iranians socially. Even with this labeling, it is unclear how many Iranians will show up to vote on Election Day, because in recent elections they haven’t. For those who did, it was likely because they feared losing their social positions or even their jobs. The 2009 election was different only because many people went to vote and then protest after the election because they didn’t want President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be president again, they wanted some kind of change and democracy in Iran, which didn’t happen.

During that Iranian presidential election in 2009, we were being held captive in Evin Prison on charges of apostasy, anti-government activity, and blasphemy, for which we were sentenced to execution by hanging, simply because we were evangelizing and sharing Bibles throughout Iran. While in prison, we learned first-hand how many young people got arrested, tortured, raped and even killed in the street or in unmarked detention centers because they attended the election protests after the sham election to re-elect Ahmadinejad. So as this election nears, it reminds us of the blood of many innocent people who paid the high price for their beliefs or for attending protests surrounding the election. Even today, we have many friends who are still in prison and have to stay there, some because of simply being in streets during a Green Movement rally surrounding the election of 2009.

We believe that this election on Friday, and elections in the future of the Islamic Republic of Iran will be a symbolic game as well because until there is a no longer a dictator who rules over Iran we will not have a fair election. The opinions of the Iranian people or the ballots do not matter and most people in Iran do not approve of the Islamic Republic, but they have no power to change this system. Iranians have no hope for the future of this country, or the elections, until this regime is no longer in power. We long for a free, democratic Iran. The people of Iran long to be free from this oppressive regime.

The people do not want Ayatollahs, the people of Iran, and we join them, hoping that one day they will have a righteous government and experience true “azadi” -- freedom. We recently wrote a book of our experience growing up in Iran and how as young women we were threatened by our government to be killed for evangelizing, or sharing, our Christian faith. Since our release, we have vowed to be a voice for the voiceless of Iran, those who are not free to speak for freedom, for fear of death. We hope to tell the watching world how oppressive this regime continues to be and to ask for prayers for the people of Iran, and especially for our brothers and sisters in Christ who remain in prison there, that someday they will experience true freedom.

Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh, authors of bestseller “Captive In Iran,” were born into Muslim families in Iran. In 2009 they were arrested in Tehran for promoting Christianity -- a capital crime in Iran -- and imprisoned for 259 days in the city’s notorious Evin Prison. They now live in the United States.