Iranian protesters attend a rally in Iran July 17. (Photo: Reuters)
Mir-Hossein Mousavi says upcoming religious festivals are an opportunity for the protesters. He also asks followers to ready themselves for unspecified sacrifices.
Tehran and Beirut - Iran's leading opposition figure today called on his supporters to head into the streets "each day" during an upcoming series of religious festivals surrounding the birthday of the Imam Mahdi, the 12th saint in the Shiite faith, potentially escalating tensions between a burgeoning protest movement and authorities amid an ongoing crackdown.
Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the former prime minister who supporters say was the victim of vote fraud in the June 12 presidential election, said the days of festivities surrounding the holiday are opportunities for the political movement built on his campaign.
"A vast green (-themed) social movement has taken shape in the country, and it has to make best use of these occasions and unveil its initiatives," Mousavi told a group of schoolteachers in comments published on his official website, Ghalamnews.ir. "We can organize programs each day to follow up on the objectives." It was the first time Mousavi had called on his supporters to take to the streets since a series of massive protest marches against the election results in favor of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rocked the country last month. Dozens of Iranians have been killed and hundreds arrested in clashes between protesters and security forces since the election that demonstrators say was marred by vote-rigging.
Before, during and after the holiday, Shiites sing Islamic songs, clap, light candles and hang bulbs as they walk in celebration of the birth of Mahdi, the last saint, or imam, in the Shiite faith, who disappeared as a child and whose return, clerics say, would herald a new age.
Mousavi also called on supporters to ready themselves for unspecified sacrifices, elevating his rhetoric after having previously disavowed comments he had made last month saying he was ready to die for the cause of overturning the election results.
"Our success in the future depends on our commitment to our slogans for freedom of expression and our readiness to pay costs for our commitment," he said.
Mousavi also condemned the government for unleashing a violent crackdown against supporters.
"We never wanted a regime allowing a bunch of plainclothesmen to launch nightly raids on our people and students and vandalize their properties," he said. "After the revolution, people punished those who committed crimes before the revolution, and today's criminals should bear in mind that our people will never pardon them."
Mousavi today reiterated his demand to use Tehran's Grand Mosalla mosque Thursday as a venue to commemorate the religiously significant 40th day after the deaths of protesters killed in the June 20 demonstrations, including Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose shooting was captured on video.
International human rights organizations as well as some Iranian officials and clergy today voiced grave concern about the treatment of detainees in the country.
"I warn all who cause brutality, beat up, murder or imprison or are accomplices in the brutality and abuses against the prisoners in cells or jails that these oppressions against those who have no shelter but God amount to mortal sins," Ayatollah Yousef Sanei said today in response to a letter sent by prominent reformists.
Human Rights Watch in a statement released this weekend called on Iranian authorities to release and stop threatening lawyers swept up in the recent unrest. Well-known human rights lawyers Shadi Sadr, Mohammad-Ali Dadkhah and Abdolfattah Soltani are among the lawyers currently behind bars, while Mohammad Seifzadeh, another attorney, was threatened against taking up detainees' cases.
Reports of conditions inside the Evin Prison have gravely concerned relatives of the detained. One witness inside the Tehran prison described corridors full of detainees, and overwhelmed prison personnel unable to maintain sanitation or attend to ailing prisoners.
News websites have reported an outbreak of meningitis inside Evin, an illness which ultimately killed Mohsen Ruholamini, the son of a prominent scientist who served as an aide to conservative presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai, a former leader of the Revolutionary Guard.
The death of Ruholamini, who friends say was severely beaten while held in the prison, has outraged prominent conservative lawmakers and silenced hard-liners close to Ahmadinejad who only a few days ago were supporting the crackdown.
"These crimes are committed by suspicious people whom we are skeptical about their Islamic beliefs," conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari said in a letter to judiciary officials who demanded that authorities name those responsible for the death of Ruholamini. "These crimes which cause the endeavors of devoted and conscientious law enforcement, Basiji and Revolutionary Guard staffs to go to the wind, must not remain unpunished."
He added, "Introduce the killer, who intentionally or unintentionally committed the murder, to the society ... and give a lesson to the murderer who calls himself an interrogator."
In possible anticipation of coming protests, Iranian leaders have attempted to respond to the rising furor over the killings and jailings, which are similar in technique but wider in scale to methods used by Iranian authorities to quell unrest in 1999 and 2003.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered "substandard detention centers" shut down, Saeed Jalali, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, told the Islamic Republic News Agency.
The head of the judiciary branch, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, has ordered senior judicial officials to decide the fate of the post-election detainees within a week and that those facing allegations that do not carry sentences should be released, his spokesman Ali-Reza Jamshidi told the Mehr news agency.
Jamshidi claimed that only 300 people are held in detention in connection with street protests. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Salarkia, deputy prosecutor-general for prison affairs, told Mehr that "we have no political prisoners or prisoners of conscience."
Human rights groups believe thousands remain in prison.
Also today, word emerged of another protester who died in the unrest. Ramin Ghahremani, 30, was arrested during a July 17 march and died of injuries two days after his release. According to reformist websites, he had been hung by his foot for extensive periods during his detention inside Evin Prison.
Authorities today also shut down a reformist newspaper, Sedayeh Edalat, for allegedly insulting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, founder of the Islamic Republic, in an article published Sunday about the late Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou.
"Who could paint with words when Khomeini and his regime were racing to kill beauty and innocence?" the article said.