As Iran braces for next month's first anniversary of the disputed presidential election that spawned its worst political crisis since the Islamic Revolution, hardliners have the opportunity to "destroy" Mir Hossein Mousavi and other opposition leaders - in a new computer game.
Players piloting fighter jets get to shoot down targets that look like Mr Mousavi and his fellow reformist figureheads, Mehdi Karrubi, and the former president, Mohammad Khatami. The game, provocatively titled Fighting the Leaders of Sedition, which has been available in Isfahan province, apparently with local police permission, reformist websites reported. It is unclear who produced the game and opposition leaders have yet to comment.
A hardline blogger, "nofuzi", has made it available to download online at www.nofuzi.blogfa.com, although it is difficult to access. He said he did not know who created the game, but added, "it's definitely a popular move". It could be dismissed as a tasteless and irresponsible gimmick to give a vicarious thrill to regime supporters. But prominent opposition figures have in recent days been on the receiving end of real-life, flesh-and-blood violence.
Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a genial and former vice president who served under Mr Khatami, said he was assaulted last week by a mob armed with knives and cables as he drove from a religious ceremony. "It was a savage attack. No one came to my rescue. God saved me," Mr Abtahi told a reformist website, Parlemannews. A jailed filmmaker, Mohammad Nourizad, meanwhile, was so severely beaten when he was let out of his prison cell last week that his eyesight was damaged, the reformist Kaleme website reported. He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail in April on charges of spreading propaganda against the government and insulting the country's leaders.
After his beating he was put in solitary confinement and is now on hunger strike, Kaleme reported. The jittery regime - despite repeatedly claiming that the "sedition" has been crushed - is also using other methods of intimidation to head off possible protests on the June 12 anniversary of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election. Two prominent student leaders were recently sentenced to long prison terms. Dozens of protestors have been killed since last June, hundreds arrested and scores of prominent reformists, journalists, students and human rights campaigners put on trial and jailed.
Last week, a majority in Iran's conservative-dominated parliament urged the hardline judiciary to put Mr Mousavi on trial after he condemned the recent execution of five people, four of them Kurds, who were convicted as "enemies of God". The computer game gives Mr Mousavi, Mr Karrubi and Mr Khatami the opportunity to shoot back. In real life, however, they are vehemently opposed to any such response in the face of violent repression by the regime. The "green" movement insists on entirely non-violent, civil action as it presses for the restitution of the peoples' rights under the Islamic republic's constitution.
But, defiantly, the three opposition leaders have been fighting back - verbally - with increasingly withering denunciations of the regime. Mr Karrubi, a former parliamentary speaker and septuagenarian cleric, accused Iran's hardline judiciary and conservative parliamentarians of trampling on constitutional rights, and of being instruments in the intimidation of pro-reform activists. In a statement posted late on Friday on his party's website, he also lashed out at Mr Ahmadinejad, saying his rule had set back the country and that the deteriorating economy had made life miserable for Iranians. The president, "with his strange behavior, has humiliated the Iranian nation", Mr Karrubi said.
Mr Mousavi, whom millions of Iranians believe was the real winner of the elections, has been no less outspoken. He told a recent gathering of families of political detainees that their loved ones were innocent. "What did they do? They asked for the most basic rights of the nation. But they were arrested ... tortured," he said. "Even their families were attacked, disrespected and assaulted." The only path to victory, he repeated, was non-violent resistance. "We neither have nor want weapons? We challenged [the government] with logic. Peaceful resistance and awakening the people is our main asset to bring change."
Mr Khatami joined in calls for a free, new election and the release of political prisoners, Parlemannews reported on Saturday. Days earlier, his close friend and ally, Mr Abtahi, gave a graphic account of his ordeal at the hands of unidentified, plaincothes militiamen. After speeding away from a mob outside a mosque, his car was intercepted by motorcyclists who "smashed my car with cable cords and knives," he told Parlemannews. "They threw tear gas into my vehicle but I was able to get out miraculously with tears running down my face."
Such tactics are the hallmark of shadowy vigilantes sponsored by the most hardline elements in the regime. A conservative website, Fars, claimed that police had prevented Mr Abtahi from being harmed, but acknowledged his car was damaged and its windscreen smashed. Mr Abtahi, a once jolly and portly figure, was arrested within days of last June's elections and, after a mass show trial, during which he appeared pale, gaunt and apparently drugged, sentenced to a six-year jail term for "acting against national security and propaganda activity". He is free on US$700,000 (Dh2.6million) bail, pending appeal.
The regime, meanwhile, has been embarrassed by the case of an award-winning Iranian film director. Jafar Panahi, 49, has been detained in Tehran's Evin prison since March 1, charged with planning to make a film about last year's disputed election - which he denies. He was selected as a juror for this year's Cannes film festival, which was due to announce the winner of its top prize, the Palme D'Or yesterday. In a letter from his cell made public at the festival, he declared: "Let us not forget the thousands of other defenceless prisoners" in Iran. "Like me, they have committed no crime and my blood is not more important than theirs."
Earlier this month, numerous Hollywood directors, including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone, signed a petition urging Iran to release Panahi. Their plea was followed by an open letter from 85 Iranian filmmakers, calling for Panahi to be given a fair hearing. Last week, the director went on hunger strike, declaring that he would not "be a laboratory rat, a victim of their [the regime's] sick games".
In a sign that mounting pressure at home and abroad could win his release pending trial, Iran's prosecutor general, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, has called on the Islamic revolutionary court to reconsider Panahi's detention. Keyboard-clicking enthusiasts of Fighting the Leaders of Sedition will be disappointed if, as expected, he is soon freed on bail. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org