x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Iranian cleric whips up anger at Mousavi, Karrubi

Regime officials and state-sponsored media have accused opposition leaders of sedition and treason; charges punishable by death. Members of parliament this week called for their immediate arrest, trial and execution.

Tens of thousands of regime loyalists in Iran yesterday protested against the opposition's two main leaders, whose long dormant Green movement has been resuscitated by popular uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East.

But, although rattled and rancorous, the authorities signalled their reluctance to make heroes out of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi.

An ultra-hardline Friday prayer leader at Tehran University, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, assured worshippers that calls to hang the two men were superfluous because they and their movement were effectively defeated already.

"To those who call for their execution, I should say that they have already been executed. They have lost all their credibility and prestige - everything," proclaimed the diminutive, octogenarian cleric who heads Iran's influential state Guardian Council.

Regime officials and state-sponsored media have accused opposition leaders of sedition and treason; charges punishable by death. Members of parliament this week called for their immediate arrest, trial and execution.

Ayatollah Jannati made clear that the regime intends to silence the leaders of the Green movement:"Their communications with people should be completely cut. They should not be able to receive and send messages. Their phone lines and internet should be cut. They should be prisoners in their homes."

Ayatollah Jannati's claim that Mr Mousavi and Mr Karrubi, both once pillars of the Islamic republic, are a spent and discredited force will be tested tomorrow.

The Green movement has called for nationwide rallies to mourn the two protesters killed on Monday when tens of thousands took to the streets in the biggest anti-government demonstrations for a year.

The coalition of opposition groups organising the protests on social networks have also called for a vocal show of support for Mr Mousavi and Mr Karrubi, who have been under unofficial house arrest since last week.

Some Iran experts believe the turnout for tomorrow's flexing of opposition muscle will be even bigger than Monday's, despite the regime's threat to show zero tolerance for renewed protests.

Yesterday, the government orchestrated its own show of support in a huge rally to voice "hatred" against the "evil" Green movement and its leaders.

"Death to Mousavi! Death to Karrubi! They should be hanged! American servants, shame on you!" worshippers shouted as they left Ayatollah Jannati's sermon and joined crowds of loyalists marching towards Tehran's Enghelab (Revolution) Square.

The Iranian authorities have made clear they will respond strongly to any new challenge. Unlike the removed regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, which had close ties with the West, Tehran does not feel pressured by global public opinion.

And, with most foreign news outlets banned from Iran, there is no Al Jazeera, BBC or CNN on hand to film actions taken by security forces. But in blogs and on websites, many Green movement supporters say they are ready to risk their lives and liberty.

Mr Karrubi, 73, a cleric and former parliamentary speaker, this week dared the regime to put him immediately on trial, insisting he had nothing to fear provided it was held in public. And he scorned those demanding he be executed by declaring: "I am not afraid of any kind of threat. I am ready to pay any price."

mtheodoulou@thenational.ae