x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Pressure on Mousavi after students' protest

Backed by 100 hardline legislators, prosecutor general calls for opposition leader to be put on trial as militia lays siege to university campus.

TEHRAN // Pressure on the opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who staunchly refuses to accept the results of the June presidential elections that brought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power for a second presidential term, mounted yesterday, one day after nationwide protests against the government. As students and other protesters chanted anti-government slogans in and outside universities in Tehran and cities throughout the country during National Students' Day rallies on Monday, Iran's prosecutor general, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, told reporters he would put a petition signed by 100 hardline legislators to put Mr Mousavi on trial on the agenda of the Mohammad Jafari Dowlatabadi, the prosecutor general of Tehran, Iranian Labour News Agency reported.

On Monday and yesterday, the premises of the Iranian Academy of Arts, of which Mr Mousavi is chairman, were under siege by about 40 plainclothes motorcyclists, according to a report that appeared on Kaleme, Mr Mousavi's official campaign website. Plainclothesmen or motorcyclists are often associated with various security forces and the militia known as Basijis. The plainclothes bikers on Monday repeatedly tried to prevent Mr Mousavi from leaving his office to keep him from joining the protesters.

The bikers were back yesterday. About noon yesterday as the bikers chanted slogans against him, Mr Mousavi walked into their midst. The former premier, annoyed by the harassment, the report on his website said, confronted the bikers by saying: "You have a task. Carry out your mission. Kill me, beat me, threaten me." The bikers retreated, but remained on the streets near the academy campus, according to the report.

Mr Mousavi returned to the safety of the academy afterward and left later after the plainclothes bikers had left. Two days before the nationwide protests, Mr Mousavi had released a statement in which he repeated his claims that the elections were rife with fraud and discussed the importance of students in the country's political and social life. One in 20 Iranians is a student and authorities would not have faced a crisis if they had not ignored the leading role of students in society, Mr Mousavi had said in his statement.

National Students' Day commemmorates the killing of three students in an anti-US rally in 1953 after a coup replaced the elected prime minister with the shah. The shah himself was removed from power in 1979 by a movement largely led by students. On Monday during protests at Tehran University, Zahra Rahnavard, Mr Mousavi's wife, was assaulted by several women when she tried to join the student protesters inside the university, according to a report that appeared on Kalemeh, Mr Mousavi's official campaign website, and Ayandeh news portal.

Ms Rahnavard, who is a professor in Tehran University's art faculty, was driven away from the campus by university security guards, but the women, who said they belonged to the Basij militia, followed them and pepper-sprayed Ms Rahnavard at close range on a street outside the campus. The pepper-spray blinded Ms Rahnavard temporarily and caused breathing difficulties. She was then whisked away by the university security guards, according to the report.

The opposition claims plainclothesmen and security forces attacked the protesters with tear gas, batons and electric batons during the protests on Monday. Photographs of security forces and plainclothesmen throwing stones at protesters have appeared on several news portals, including Tabnak, a conservative news portal associated with Mohsen Rezaie, the only conservative candidate in the presidential elections and a former Revolutionary Guards chief commander.

Borna News, IRNA and Fars News Agency all reported several minor clashes between opposition students known as the Greens and pro-government students during fresh protests in Tehran University yesterday. The rallies ended as dusk fell. Pro-government students prevented the protesters who had gathered in front of Tehran University's faculty of technology from spreading their protest to other parts of the campus, the pro-government Fars News Agency reported.

The pro-Mousavi protesters, who chanted slogans against Mr Ahmadinejad and the Basij militia, broke windows and threw stones and bottles at the pro-government students and used tear gas on them, the report claimed. There were no reports of arrests yesterday, but an unspecified number of protesters were detained by security forces on Monday in and outside universities in Tehran and other cities, including Shiraz, Mashad, Hamadan, Arak, Isfahan, Shahrekord, Ahwaz and Rasht, according to Tagheer, the official website of Mehdi Karrubi, another defeated presidential candidate and opposition leader.

Brig Gen Azizollah Rajabzadeh, chief of the Tehran police, said 165 men and 39 women were arrested in Tehran on Monday, Iranian Labor News Agency reported yesterday. He also said only police were involved in dispersing protesters on Monday and Basij militia force had not carried out any operations. On Monday, the leading reformist newspaper, Hayate No (New Life), was banned by the Press Supervisory Committee for "reporting outside approved boundaries".

The newspaper had published for nearly 10 years under Seyed Hadi Khamenei, a cleric and former lawmaker who happens to be a half-brother of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In the lead-up to National Students Day, authorities barred journalists and cameramen working for foreign media from reporting on the protests, making independent reporting impossible. The ban is being lifted today. State-run television on Monday evening accused foreign media, in particular Al-Arabiya television, a Saudi-owned, Dubai-based network, of fomenting unrest in Iran by exaggerating opposition protests. Voice of America Persian TV and BBC Persian TV, which were called "the main sedition stage managers of December 7th", were also condemned in the broadcast.

@Email:msinaiee@thenational.ae