Iranian Lawmakers Call for Death of Opposition Leaders

Tuesday, 15 February 2011 10:53 By Alan Cowell and Neil MacFarouhar, The New York Times News Service | Report | name.

Iranian Lawmakers Call for Death of Opposition Leaders
Opposition candidate Mehdi Karroubi. Following protests in Iran on Monday, members of the Iranian Parliament today called for the two most prominent opposition leaders to be prosecuted and sentenced to death for stirring unrest. (Photo: bbcworldservice)

A day after the most significant street protests in Iran since the end of the 2009 uprising there, members of the Iranian Parliament called on Tuesday for the two most prominent opposition leaders to be prosecuted and sentenced to death for stirring unrest.

The call came as confrontations between government authorities and protesters inspired by the Tunisia and Egypt revolutions continued to unfold elsewhere in the region, with violent clashes in Bahrain and Yemen.

The protests in Tehran and other Iranian cities on Monday brought thousands onto the streets, defying an official prohibition and reviving memories of the mass protests that convulsed Iran after the disputed presidential election in 2009.

The demonstrations were ostensibly called to offer support for the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, but they soon turned into what opposition figures depicted as a renewal of the anti-government sentiment that the authorities sought to quash last year.

Iran’s two man opposition leaders, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Mussein Moussavi, were prevented from attending the protests on Monday in Tehran.

Nonetheless, the official IRNA news agency reported, 222 members of the 290-seat Parliament issued a statement on Tuesday saying they “are corrupts on earth and should be tried.” the official IRNA news agency quoted members of parliament as saying in a statement.

The offense of being “corrupt of the earth,” a catchall indictment of political dissent, carries the death sentence. It was not immediately clear whether the two men would be arrested. Both are under effective house arrest with their communications and movements restricted.

During a news conference in Washington, President Obama said he supported the courage of the Iranian demonstrators who were seeking a more representative government, and he criticized the Iranian government’s response to the rallies.

“I find it ironic that you’ve got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when in fact they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully in Iran,” he said.

Mr. Obama went on to say: “Real change in these societies is not going to happen because of terrorism. It’s not going to happen because you go around killing innocents. It’s going to happen because people come together and apply moral force to a situation.”

Iranian Prosecutor General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei said the judiciary will deal “firmly and swiftly” with those behind the riots, the state-controlled Press TV said.

The official fury seemed to denote the authorities’ displeasure and embarrassment at their opponents’ ability to muster a significant display of defiance.

A spokesman for Mr. Moussavi said the protests showed that the so-called Green Movement, formed to challenge the disputed election in 2009, had scored a “great victory” and was “alive and well” despite a huge government crackdown when the government quashed dissent through the shooting of demonstrators, mass trials, torture, lengthy jail sentences and even executions of some of those taking part.

The authorities had refused to issue a permit for the demonstration but Amir Arjomand, the spokesman for Mr. Moussavi, said: “If the government had issued a permit and guaranteed the safety of the people, there would certainly have been millions of people out in Tehran and other cities.”

The protests were not immediately reported on Iran’s state-controlled media on Monday, and a summary of headlines in the newspapers carried by IRNA on Tuesday made no reference to them.

Initial reports said one person died in the clashes.

The dead man was officially identified on Tuesday as Saane Zhaleh, a student at Tehran Art University. But the government and opposition disputed his loyalties, with the authorities saying he was shot by opponents of the regime while opposition accounts said he was beaten to death by plainclothes government forces who roamed the streets on Tuesday on motorcycles.

The ISNA student news agency in Iran said two people had died but there was no immediate confirmation of that.

In what seemed part of choreographed effort to blame the two opposition leaders for the unrest, Fars news agency said there had been protests among pro-government students against the two opposition figures, who have repeatedly denied their critics’ accusation that they are part of a Western plot to topple the Islamic revolutionary leadership.

Fars, a semiofficial service linked to the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, said the demonstrations had been conducted by “hypocrites, monarchists, hooligans and seditionists” whose leaders were puppets of Britain and the United States. It ridiculed them for not chanting slogans about Egypt, the nominal reason for the protests, and said an unspecified number of people had been arrested.

The Parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, accused the United States and its allies of providing support to the opposition following uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

“The main aim of Americans was to simulate the recent events in the Middle East in Iran to divert attention from those countries,” Mr. Larijani said, according to state radio.

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There were no reports of further unrest in Iran on Tuesday, but the region continued to feel the tremors from the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

In Bahrain, where a Sunni Muslim elite rules a largely Shiite nation, police clashed on Tuesday with mourners following the cortege of a protester killed on Monday. As the police fired tear gas in an attempt to block the funeral procession, a second demonstrator was killed by gunfire, human rights organizations said.

In Yemen, several hundred demonstrators to march from the university district in the capital, Sana, but police wielding wooden batons prevented them from going far, witnesses said. Then a group of pro-regime demonstrators began hurling rocks at their adversaries.

The size of the protests in Iran was unclear. Witness accounts and news reports from inside the country suggested that perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 demonstrators in several cities defied strong warnings and took to the streets.

The unrest was an acute embarrassment for Iranian leaders, who had sought to portray the toppling of two secular rulers, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, as a triumph of popular support for Islam in the Arab world. They had refused permission to Iranian opposition groups seeking to march in solidarity with the Egyptians, and warned journalists and photographers based in the country, with success, not to report on the protests.

Iranian demonstrators portrayed the Arab insurrections as a different kind of triumph. “Mubarak, Ben Ali, now it’s time for Sayyid Ali!” Iranian protesters chanted in Persian on videos posted online that appeared to be from Tehran, referring to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Iranian authorities have shown that they will not hesitate to crush demonstrations with deadly force. Other governments across the Middle East and the Persian Gulf also moved aggressively to stamp out protests on Monday.

In the central Iranian city of Isfahan, many demonstrators were arrested after security forces clashed with them, reports said, and sporadic messages from inside Iran indicated that there had also been protests in Shiraz, Mashhad and Rasht.

Ayatollah Khamenei and the Iranian establishment have tried to depict the Arab movements as a long-awaited echo of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, though Islamist parties had a low profile in both the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings.

The Iranian opposition has painted the Arab protests as an echo of its own anti-government movement in 2009, when citizens demanded basic rights like freedom of assembly and freedom of speech after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Karroubi said in an interview last week that the opposition had decided to organize a day of demonstrations to underscore the double standard of the government in lauding protesters in Arab countries while suppressing those at home.

Reports from inside Iran on Monday were harvested from a special Facebook page set up for the day called 25 Bahman, Twitter feeds, telephone calls and opposition Web sites.

They indicated that one tactic for sympathizers hoping to avoid a beating at the hands of the police was to drive to the demonstrations, with huge traffic jams reported in Tehran. Security forces on motorcycles tried to run down protesters, witnesses said.

Cellular telephone service was shut off around the main squares and the Internet slowed to a crawl, activists said. Echoing tactics in Egypt and Tunisia, sympathizers outside Iran set up the 25 Bahman Facebook page — named for Monday’s date on the Iranian calendar — to collect videos, eyewitness accounts and any information.

Twitter feeds informed demonstrators to gather quickly at a certain intersection, then disperse rapidly. One video showed them burning a government poster as the chant against Ayatollah Khamenei rang out.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “We wish the opposition and the brave people in the streets across cities in Iran the same opportunity that they saw their Egyptian counterparts seize in the last week.”

Alan Cowell reported from Paris, and Neil MacFarquhar from New York. Reporting was contributed by Michael Slackman from Manama, Bahrain; Laura Kasinof from Sana, Yemen; Artin Afkhami from Washington; and Maria Newman from New York.

This article "Iranian Lawmakers Call for Death of Opposition Leaders" originally appeared at The New York Times.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 15 February 2011 11:24