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Arrest would make Iran opposition "saints": official

Iran prosecutor warns opposition against rally

Published:

Arresting Iran's opposition leaders after the 2009 election would have turned them into "saints", Iran's judiciary chief said Wednesday, adding their fate was in the hands of the nation's supreme leader.

"In the case of sedition leaders ... taking a decision is not only on me, but ... on vali e-faqhi (supreme leader) and it is beyond the judiciary's decisions," the ISNA news agency quoted Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani as saying.

He added: "If we had confronted the heads of sedition, they would have become saints. The arrest of sedition leaders is not a special case but we follow the expediency of the system and we will take action at the right time."

Iranian officials refer to opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi as "heads of sedition" after they called for mass demonstrations against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009.

The protests turned deadly when the authorities launched a crackdown.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all national issues, has regularly attacked Mousavi and Karroubi and accused them of being supported by Westerners.

Mousavi and Karroubi have sought to hold a rally on February 14 in support of Arab revolts but observers say it could be a ploy to garner their supporters to stage fresh anti-government demonstrations.

Iranian officials have expressed their support for Egyptian protesters, with Khamenei going so far as to call for the establishment of an Islamic regime in the world's most populous Arab nation.

Since last year's anniversary of the Islamic revolution, no fresh protests have been called and opposition demonstrators have stayed off the streets.

On Tuesday, Mousavi and Karroubi, once seen as pillars of the Islamic regime, issued a scathing attack against the establishment on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of the revolution.

In a joint statement posted on their respective websites they said the country's religious atmosphere has been "most hurt" by the "anti-religion and oppressive behavior of the regime itself."

Calling their movement as a "new discourse", they said it seeks to "put an end to the rule of hooligans and instill meritocracy" in Iran.

If we had confronted the heads of sedition, they would have become saints. The arrest of sedition leaders is not a special case but we follow the expediency of the system and we will take action at the right time

Iran judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani

Warning from prosecutor

Iran's prosecutor general Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie said the aim of the two leaders by holding a separate rally was to divide the Iranian people.

He warned opposition supporters not to hold a rally next week, saying they can expect a response from "vigilant" Iranians if they do, the semi-official Mehr news wire reported on Wednesday.

Although the government is unlikely to permit a rally organized by people it considers "seditionists", many Iranians have said they may attend in any case. A Facebook page dedicated to the day has more than 20,000 followers.

It would be the Green movement's first demonstration since December 2009 when eight protesters were killed and more than 1,000 arrested, ending months of mass protests during which Iran witnessed the worst unrest since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Mohseni-Ejei said that if Iranians want to show their support for protesters in North Africa, they should do so at nationwide government-sponsored rallies this Friday marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

"If a person really has the motivation to support the heroic people of Egypt and Tunisia, he will join the rally of Bahman 22 (Feb. 11) along with the nation and the government," Mohseni-Ejei said.

"Setting another date means these gentlemen have distanced themselves from the people and created division. This a political act. But the people of Iran are vigilant and if necessary they will respond," he added.

Basij militia forces loyal to the government helped suppress Green movement protests in 2009.

Setting another date means these gentlemen have distanced themselves from the people and created division. This a political act. But the people of Iran are vigilant and if necessary they will respond

Iran prosecutor general Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie

A test for the Green movement

In an interview with The New York Times, conducted via the Internet from his home where he said he was living under conditions close to house arrest, the 73-year-old cleric Karroubi said: "Next Monday will be a test for the Green movement.

"If the government issues a permit, there will be a huge demonstration and it will show how alive the Green movement is."

He did not say what might happen in the event the authorities deny permission, as seems likely.

Both sides of Iran's deep political divide have expressed solidarity with the North African uprisings that ousted Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and have put Egypt's Hosni Mubarak's 30-year tenure in jeopardy.

Ayatollah Khamenei described the uprisings as an "Islamic awakening", continuing the work started by Iranian revolutionaries who overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979 and established Shiite Muslim clerical rule.

The Green movement leaders have said the Tunisian and Egyptian protesters borrowed slogans from their own 2009 protests against an election result they say was rigged, a charge the government denies.

Karroubi said a successful uprising in Egypt would win democratic freedoms that are lacking in Iran.

"It will show that Iran has been left behind, that it has not gone forward with the principles of the revolution that everything should be based on the vote of the people," he told The New York Times.

It will show that Iran has been left behind, that it has not gone forward with the principles of the revolution that everything should be based on the vote of the people

Opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi