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Iran’s opposition turns to top clerics

Compares current crackdown to that of the late shah

Protesters outside the Iranian Embassy in London yesterday demanded an end to Iran’s clampdown on opposition activists. Protesters outside the Iranian Embassy in London yesterday demanded an end to Iran’s clampdown on opposition activists. (Akira Suemori/ Associated Press)
By Ali Akbar Dareini
Associated Press / July 26, 2009

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TEHRAN - Iran’s opposition leaders appealed yesterday to top clerics in the holy city of Qom to help stop the ruling Islamic regime’s violent postelection crackdown, reaching out to the one group that could challenge the country’s supreme leader.

The reformists compared the regime’s crackdown to that of the late shah of Iran, remembered in the country for his brutal secret police.

Iran’s opposition maintains that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole the June 12 elections from opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi by engaging in massive fraud, but its demonstrations have been ruthlessly suppressed leaving hundreds, if not thousands, in prison.

The opposition has been hampered by the firm backing given the president and his election win by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who in Iran’s Islamic republic has the final say in all state matters.

A possible counterweight to Khamenei’s wide-ranging powers, however, is the moral authority of nine clerics in the holy city of Qom that are “marja’ taqlid,’’ or sources of emulation for Iran’s Shi’ites.

Traditionally, these clerics, who have huge spiritual influence over Iranians, have stayed out of Iran’s religious-based politics, and they routinely congratulated each winner of the presidential election.

This time, however, only one has done so, while three others have spoken out against the violent crackdown against the hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters who took to the streets to protest the alleged election fraud.

Mousavi, who asserts he won the election, former president Mohammad Khatami, and 67 other prominent reformists sent a letter to the clerics saying authorities have held protesters and activists without charges and have used torture to extract confessions.

“We call on you, the marja’ taqlid . . . to remind the relevant authorities of the damaging consequences of employing unlawful methods and warn them about the spread of tyranny in the Islamic republic system,’’ said the letter, a copy of which was made available to the Associated Press.

Mahdi Karroubi, a signatory to the letter and a candidate in the election, sent a missive of his own to Iran’s intelligence chief describing the crackdown on protesters as worse than the treatment of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis.

“Everyone has seen how women have been beaten with batons and thrown to the ground - this is worse than what the Zionist criminals are doing to the oppressed Palestinian people,’’ he wrote in his letter addressed to intelligence chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi.

Karroubi’s accusation is particularly potent because Iran’s regime frequently focuses on the plight of the Palestinians and often condemns Israel’s policies in the occupied territories.