Iran’s opposition leaders call for big turnout to mark ’79 revolution

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Reporting from Beirut — The leaders of Iran’s opposition movement boldly urged supporters to take to the streets during commemorations marking the 31st anniversary of Iran’s revolution, condemning the recent executions of two alleged government opponents and a fiery Friday prayer sermon by a hardline cleric calling for protesters to be put to death.

In a meeting this morning, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi voiced deep sorrow and raised questions about the “hasty” executions of Mohammad-Reza Ali-Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour, who were hanged Thursday morning in a move widely interpreted as an attempt to intimidate Iran’s opposition movement ahead of anticipated confrontations during Feb. 11 celebrations coinciding with the 1979 birthday of the Islamic Republic.

Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a relatively moderate cleric believed to be sympathetic to the opposition, also called on Iranians “of all groups and camps” to turn out en masse for the holiday, but warned that any violence will serve the interests of Tehran’s “enemies.”

“I invite all people and political camps across the country to march on 22 Bahman and renew their allegiance to the Islamic Republic despite certain differences of opinion,” he said in an address to the powerful Expediency Council, which he heads, posted to his website.

The calls for the opposition to take to the streets came as top Iranian officials warned of consequences for anyone who tries to take part in anything but official rallies during Feb. 11, the 22nd day of the Persian calendar month of Bahman, traditionally an occasion for anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans and imagery.

“On the 22nd of Bahman, anyone breaking ranks with the Iranian people will be considered an agent of foreigners,” Brig. Gen. Hossein Hamedani, the Tehran Revolutionary Guards commander, told Sepahnews, the website of the elite military branch. “Any voice or color other than the voice of the Islamic revolution will be pushed aside and if a minority makes such an attempt, it will be firmly confronted.”

Meanwhile, 16 alleged opposition supporters, 14 men and two women, were brought to trial Saturday and charged with plotting against the Islamic system and being in cahoots with foreign enemies of Iran, including Israel and the Brookings Institute, a Washington think tank.

But months of similar trials of protesters and a continuous stream of dire warnings against the opposition have so far failed to cow a grassroots movement unlike any Iran has ever experienced.

Former Prime Minister Mousavi and former parliament speaker Karroubi both ran in the June 12 elections against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose victory was marred by widespread allegations of vote-rigging that triggered eight months of political discord.

The pair, who have emerged as the leading figureheads of Iran’s Green movement, condemned the recent mass arrests of activists, journalists and scholars and the call Friday by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati urging officials to quickly put arrested opposition supporters to death by likening them to the “Jews” who defied the prophet Mohammad.

“It is regrettable to see the Friday Prayers tribune has turned into a venue for inciting violence and encouraging more executions,” they were quoted as saying.

Mousavi and Karroubi “invited” people to turn out massively on Feb. 11, risking the wrath of authorities who already have placed them under strict surveillance in conditions that resemble house arrest.

“The majority of people are courageously present in the battlefield to regain the rights denied them,” the pair were quoted as saying in an account of the meeting posted to Mousavi’s Facebook page, which is run by a supporter in Germany, and Karroubi’s news website, “They want a free vote, but their voices are unfortunately not heard.”

They said the only way to pull the country out of its greatest domestic political crisis in decades and restore calm was to “release the prisoners of conscience, lift press bans, remove seals from political party offices and hold free and fair elections,” in a reiteration of their longstanding insistence that the June election was fraudulent.

The account on the Facebook page included a rare photograph of the two reformist politicians together apparently inside Karroubi’s residence, a cup of tea and bowl of dates resting on the table before them.

The two tempered their calls for protests and a lifting of the crackdown with an insistence that they did not seek to overthrow the Islamic Republic, as demanded by some radicals in the opposition movement and exiled Iranians in the Diaspora.

“The continuation of the ongoing conditions will harm the revolution and the Islamic establishment,” they were quoted as saying. “The majority of people only demand their rights and they seek no structural changes to the regime.”