The people of Iran woke up Saturday morning to find not only that the election had been stolen from the popular opposition candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, but that any means of protesting against the electoral fraud and challenging the hardline right in Iran had been closed in what is being described in Tehran as a coup d’etat. Mousavi, now under house arrest, was informed of his clear victory in the elections. There would be no need to go to a second round, he was told. He was asked to curb the most jubilant celebrations of his supporters in the interests of keeping the streets calm. This turned out to be a pretext to enable Ahmadinejad and his military backers to seize power. The falsification of the result of the June 12 presidential elections and the seizing of power by the defeated theocrats has shocked the population and plunged Iran into an unprecedented political crisis.

Supporters of Mousavi have taken to the streets in their thousands in Tehran and other major cities, leading to clashes between the military-security forces and demonstrators. Arrests during the night across the country saw up to a hundred key opposition figures incarcerated, together with the many activists pulled off the streets, and the regime has today taken down communication systems in order to paralyze the opposition. SMS messaging and the e-mail connections are down.

Reaction to the crisis has been instantaneous. A fatwah has been issued by one of the grand ayatollahs, Ayatollah Sane’ei, declaring what has been done by Ahmadinejad and his backers as “haram” (forbidden by God) prohibiting anyone from cooperating with the ‘government’ of Ahmadinejad. Sane’ei’s house was immediately surrounded by the regime’s security forces.

Clear evidence is emerging of massive irregularities in the election. Whole-scale swapping of ballot boxes has been reported in all major cities. This was hardly a surprise. Prior to the election, the regime clearly stated that it would never allow a reformist government to come to power and it wasted no time in declaring Ahmadinejad the outright winner, despite the “landslide for change” declared to Mousavi himself the day before and widely reported in the international media. Protesters in Iran are arguing that the regime has violently interfered with the electoral process. The alleged 65 percent of the poll that Ahmadinejad claims flies in the face of reports from all independent observers and journalists from across the globe covering this historic election from Iran. The evidence on the polling day was that millions voted for Mir Hossein Mousavi, with exit polls showing him to be the winner by around the same percentage of votes as Ahmadinejad is claiming.

Hossein Mousavi, under house arrest, insists that he will not accept the result and declares what has happened to be “a charade.” The confirmation of the rigged result by Iran’s Supreme Religious Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei shows exactly what he, and the military-security infrastructure controlled by him, is prepared to do to prevent the wishes of millions of Iranians being recognized.

This election and its aftermath clearly mark a turning point in the way the regime deals with its opponents and demonstrates that even the so called “insider critics” are no longer tolerated and will not be allowed to have any political influence over the direction of events in the country. As this goes to print the names of the arrested — former ministers, politicians and journalists included — are coming through. The international community must not dismiss this as yet another disputed election but recognize it for the illegal seizure of power that it is and campaign tirelessly for the voice of the Iranian people to be heard and respected and for Iran to become open to greater democracy and change — just as those who voted hoped!

Jamshid Ahmadi is assistant general secretary of CODIR, Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights,