Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei warns opposition ahead of key anniversary
Just ahead of the one-year anniversary of Iran's disputed presidential election, supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei told Iranians to be watchful for opponents. But he also has pardoned or commuted sentences in recent days for 81 detainees jailed during protests.
Istanbul, Turkey — Iran’s hard-line leadership warned the opposition movement against serving as “soldiers of the bullying powers” as the one-year anniversary looms next week of Iran’s disputed presidential election.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei told Iranians Friday to be watchful for opponents who had strayed from the path of the 1979 Islamic revolution and the directives of one of the Islamic Republic’s most sacred icons, its late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – known affectionately among followers as “Imam," one of the highest ranks in Shiite Islam.
Widespread rejection of the official results of the June 12 vote, which installed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second term with an unlikely landslide, prompted cries of fraud and weeks of bloody street protests that killed scores and turned into the worst political crisis in Iran in three decades.
Khamenei warned that opposition protests were a “scandal” and “not acceptable,” and that finally, Iranian unity behind the regime had “showed such great power it dazzled the whole world.”
“The followers of the Imam, and those who do not approve of the Imam’s path and find it wrong, are easily distinguishable,” Mr. Khamanei declared on Friday to tens of thousands of Iranians as they marked the 21st year since Mr. Khomeini’s death at his mausoleum south of Tehran. State-run TV said “millions” of Iranians turned out on Friday to mourn Khomeini, but the live footage of the event appeared to show tens of thousands both inside and around the shrine compound.
Khamenei accused opposition leaders, all of them former top office holders for many years, of betraying the revolution, the ideals of Khomeini, and Islamic teachings.
“You cannot find yourself following the Imam’s path but at the same time be in cahoots with those who rise against the ideas of the Imam. That’s just not possible,” Khamenei said, according to the translation of the live broadcast on state-run PressTV.
The statements come as opposition leaders attempt to stage next week a mass rally to mark the first anniversary of the election, an event that in its aftermath brought millions of Iranians onto the streets in unprecedented protest weeks last year.
Security forces have said they will prevent any illegal gatherings. Last February, they succeeded with heavy police and militia deployments in preventing almost all opposition turnout on the streets despite a universal call to protest from opposition leaders to mark the 31st anniversary of the revolution.
Mr. Ahmadinejad, who spoke before Khamenei at the mausoleum, was even more pointed in his criticism of the opposition. The firebrand arch-conservative said Iranian believers were alert to all treachery against the regime, and would crush the opposition.
“Whoever deviates from the path of the Imam, despite whatever power he holds, he will be thrown away by the strong hand of the people,” Ahmadinejad said.
Despite the controversy over fraud in the election, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly declared that Iran’s democracy is perfect, asserting as he did on Friday that Iran has “the most democratic government in the world and last year we witnessed it.”
Ahmadinejad said the opposition were “claiming they were followers of Khomeini’s pure path,” but had fallen in with monarchists and Western powers that were the “worst enemies” of Khomeini.
“According to the Imam, preserving the regime is of the highest importance,” the president said. “I am sorry to say that those who are tarnishing the reputation of the Islamic Republic cannot claim to be followers of the Imam.”
Taking the podium after Ahmadinejad was the grandson of Khomeini himself, cleric Hassan Khomeini, the caretaker of the shrine. But he has spoken out against hard-line rule in Iran, and was shouted down by elements of the crowd – some of them chanting “Death to [opposition leader Mir Hossein] Mousavi!” – and was not able to speak for more than a few minutes.
“The dignity of the anniversary does not deserve what this small group is doing,” he said, referring to those who disrupted his speech with chanting. The ILNA news agency reported that other members of the Khomeini family left in protest after the incident, according to the Associated Press.
Leaflets showing grandson Khomeini at past events alongside opposition leaders were reportedly handed out by hard-liners at the event. During Khamenei’s subsequent speech, state TV showed him sitting with his head in his hands in apparent dismay.
As the crowd shouted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" – though without the passion of past performances – Khamenei spent time explaining that even going back to the first famous Shiite imams of the 7th century, a positive past record was no substitute for current poor performance.
He sought to explain how former regime stalwarts strayed from the true path of the revolution, and should be held to account today. Clear in his sights were opposition leaders Mr. Mousavi, prime minister for most of the 1980s who was close to Khomeini, former two-time parliament speaker and presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, and former two-time president Mohammad Khatami.
“If the present status of an individual [does not reflect the good work of] the past, then we should ignore that past,” Khamenei said. He noted that some followers of Khomeini had traveled with him from exile in Paris to Tehran in 1979, but were later executed because their changing ideas forced Khomeini to “push them from him.”
“So the yardstick for passing judgment is the present situation,” Khamenei stated.
The supreme leader has declared that rejecting the results of the June 2009 vote is the “biggest crime.” Key opposition and reformist figures have been given stiff prison sentences, and a handful linked to the protests have been executed. Top officials have charged that US, British, and Israeli hands were behind street demonstrations that aimed to topple the regime in a “velvet revolution.”
Khamenei nevertheless has pardoned or commuted sentences in recent days for 81 detainees jailed during protests. The official IRNA news agency reported that they had repented for their actions.
In a letter requesting the pardons, Iran’s judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani wrote: “When the nature of the unrest was revealed and the plots hatched by the enemies became crystal clear, a number of these … individuals came to their senses, regretted their deeds, repented, and are now requesting to be pardoned.”
Fars News Agency, which is linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, said opposition leader Mr. Karroubi was heckled on Thursday night by hard-liners chanting “Death to the hypocrites!” when he went to the shrine to pay his respects to Khomeini. The founder of the revolution had appointed him to serve as the head of the powerful martyr’s foundation during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
“They speak in a way as if the Imam belongs to them only and others have broken path with the Imam,” Karroubi later said on his website Sahamnews, according to Agence France-Presse.
“I am worried about the Islamic aspect of the regime,” the cleric added about the political contest between religious rule and democracy in Iran. “They have ruined the republic side of the regime in the name of Islam.”