x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Iran isolates two top opposition leaders as 'anti-revolution'

Iran isolates two top opposition leaders as 'anti-revolutionaries', with security forces apparently taking them from their homes, where they had been under house arrest

TEHRAN // Iran's state prosecutor said yesterday that authorities have cut off outside contact with the country's two dominant opposition leaders as part of a campaign to silence dissent.

In remarks reported by the official IRNA news agency, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi warned that if necessary "other measures" could be taken against Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi.

"In the first step, their contacts such as meetings and telephone conversations have been restricted," Mr Ejehi was quoted by IRNA as saying. "Should circumstances arise, other measures will be taken".

The development is a sharp escalation following warnings by an international human rights group, which said Sunday the two leaders and their wives were in grave danger after security forces apparently took them from their homes, where they had been under house arrest.

Mr Ejehi did not say where they were being held.

Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi were placed under house arrest after urging supporters to attend a February 14 rally. Clashes between protesters and security forces during the demonstrations killed two and wounded dozens.

Mr Karroubi's website, sahamnews.org, said Iranian security forces took the two and their wives to an "unknown location" on Thursday.

Activists and opposition members have demanded Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi be released, vowing to stage demonstrations every Tuesday until they are freed.

Mr Ejehi said any attempt by opposition supporters to take to the streets will meet swift retribution.

Iranian officials had called Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi "leaders of sedition," but Mr Ejehi said the two were no longer seditionists but anti-revolutionaries.

"Today, this current has passed the sedition stage. It has turned into an anti-revolution [current]," IRNA quoted him as saying.

A prominent pro-reform cleric, Grand Ayatollah Youssef Saanei, denounced the government's treatment of the two.

"We are witnessing anti-Islamic and anti-human attacks against political opponents," said Saanei in a statement posted on a reformist website, kaleme.com.

The men "have been deprived of their basic human rights and put under house arrest without holding any trial, even a show trial and without giving them the chance to defend themselves," Ayatollah Saanei said.

The protests that swept Iran in the months after the disputed June 2009 presidential election grew into a larger movement opposed to Iran's ruling system. It was the biggest challenge faced by Iran's clerical leadership since it came to power in the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah.

Hundreds of thousands peacefully took to the streets in support of Mr Mousavi, who claimed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected through massive voter fraud, and some powerful clerics sided with the opposition.

But a heavy military crackdown crushed the protests, and many in the opposition, from midlevel political figures to street activists, journalists and human rights workers, were arrested.

The opposition says more than 80 demonstrators were killed in the turmoil. The government, which puts the number of confirmed deaths at 30, accuses opposition leaders of being "stooges of the West" and of seeking to topple the ruling system.