TEHRAN // The Iranian opposition expressed alarm yesterday about possible plans to arrest Mir Hossein Mousavi, a defeated presidential candidate and leading opposition figure, after perceived insults of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late leader of the Islamic revolution. In a brief and vaguely worded note posted on Saturday evening, Kalameh, the official news website of Mr Mousavi's campaign, called on supporters to keep themselves abreast of the latest developments following the "implementation of a scenario by the official media to insult Imam [Khomeini] and hold students responsible for that". Last Monday, Iranian state-run television broadcast footage of a poster of Khomeini being torn and set on fire.
The act allegedly occurred at one of the universities in Tehran where opposition and pro-government students were holding rallies to commemorate National Students Day. In the footage, voices chanting slogans against Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, could be heard in the background. The faces of those tearing the poster were not shown, however. The television broadcaster implied that supporters of the Green Movement, as Mr Mousavi's supporters are known, were involved in the incident. The footage caused an uproar in the pro-government camp, which immediately condemned it as a sacrilege and called for severe punishment of those responsible. Yesterday, Ayatollah Khamenei warned opposition leaders to distance themselves from protesters, whom he accused of acting "against Islam". "Those who shout slogans in the name of these people [opposition leaders], hoist their pictures and speak of them with respect are in a point which is the exact opposite of Imam [Khomeini] and Islam," Ayatollah Khamenei said on state television.
"When you see this, step aside," he said to opposition leaders Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, describing them as his "former brothers". Several top-ranking hardline clerics, including Ayatollah Seyed Ahmad Khatami, one of the Friday prayer leaders of Tehran, have directly accused Mr Mousavi of being responsible for insulting the values of the Islamic revolution. Mr Karrubi, a defeated candidate in the elections who continues to challenge the results of the June vote, wrote a letter to the head of the state broadcasting organisation last week to condemn the "deliberate" showing of the footage. He said the footage had been shown on state television to justify the "suppression of people". Mr Mousavi, who served as prime minister from 1981 to 1989, has denounced the tearing and burning of Khomeini's poster as well as the airing of the footage.
"Those who have any affection for me will never permit any insults to Imam Khomeini - I am confident that students never attempt any such actions because we all know that they love him and are prepared to make every sacrifice to realise his ideals," Mr Mousavi told Jomhuri Eslami newspaper, in its Saturday edition, in the first interview he has given to any newspaper since his defeat in the June elections. Mr Mousavi was once the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, which remains supportive of him as well as of his influential supporter, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, who has been sidelined by hardliners since the presidential elections for refusing to acknowledge the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Despite Mr Mousavi's statement, other sources have corroborated Kalameh's warning. According to Norooz News, the official news website of the reformist Islamic Participation Front, informed sources "strongly confirmed the possibility of Mr Mousavi's arrest by the coup d'état agents". The line was quickly picked up by opposition supporters who have taken it on themselves to warn others by means of numerous blogs and use of such social networking sites as Twitter, Friend Feed and Facebook. Some of the users have called for staging protests or even a national strike if Mr Mousavi is arrested. "People and especially the youth are very angry and although I haven't seen anyone insulting Mr Khomeini during street protests, I can't rule out the possibility that a few ignorant people did that this time," Ali, a middle-aged civil servant and a supporter of the Green Movement, said. "Many of us adore the late leader and cherish his memory and heritage and will not stand any insults to him. Generalising from an isolated case and its airing, however, seems to be too deliberate to me. It sounds like a plan to make rifts among us supporters of the Green Movement," he said. "But unfortunately the more they try to quell the society, the more they radicalise protesters by their wrong methods. They can ruin any chances of a national reconciliation if they keep going wrong like this." firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse