TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s embattled opposition leaders promised to press on with their campaign against the country’s rulers, saying the use of force to crush the post-election protests will not silence their demands for democratic change.
The powerful statement of defiance Friday from opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and former President Mohammad Khatami also sent a message to their supporters that the protest campaign triggered by the disputed June 12 presidential election still had energy and leadership though street demonstrations fizzled out months ago.
A bloody crackdown and a mass trial of pro-reform figures that has so far produced three death sentences quelled the weeks of street protests that followed the vote. Since then, the opposition has been struggling to reinvigorate itself as Iran’s government under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cements its control.
Mousavi, who claims the election was stolen from him through massive vote fraud, met Friday with Khatami, who began the drive for greater political and social freedoms in Iran during his 1997-2005 presidency. They discussed obstacles facing the reformists.
“The use of force and pressure won’t force the Iranian nation to deviate one iota from the path it has chosen,” said a statement posted after the meeting on Khatami’s Web site. “And those loyal to … Iran won’t give up their … patriotic responsibilities despite all problems and threats.”
The two leaders said a “security climate” imposed by hard-liners to try to silence the opposition has instead undermined people’s trust in the ruling system and paved the way for those who want to change the regime.
On Friday, a hard-line cleric sought to head off an attempt to reinvigorate the anti-government movement by warning against a planned opposition rally on Nov. 4 that would coincide with annual state-sponsored demonstrations against the United States.
The cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, also had an unusual warning for the security forces, telling them any soft treatment of those activists already in detention would be considered treason. “Nobody gives a flower to his murderer,” he said in a Friday prayer sermon.
Thousands of people were arrested in the heavy crackdown that crushed the mass protests in support of Mousavi. It was the country’s worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The opposition says at least 72 protesters were killed, while the government puts the number of confirmed dead at 30.
More than 100 people, including many prominent reformist political figures, have stood trial since August on charges of supporting the unrest and seeking to topple the ruling system through a “velvet revolution.”
Some of the defendants, including a former vice president, confessed to fomenting the unrest, but the opposition condemned the trial as a “ridiculous show” and said the admissions were obtained under duress. “Confronting people’s civil protest … and the distortion, fabrication, insult and false statements broadcast on state media … will undoubtedly create the best situation for those who are opposed to the very basis of the system,” said the statement from Khatami and Mousavi.
The two leaders said curbing liberties, suppressing reformist media, imprisoning activists and leveling charges against reformist politicians without giving them the right to respond in state media were contrary to Iran’s constitution and Islamic Sharia law.
A political movement created by Mousavi called the Green Path of Hope has sought to provide the opposition to Ahmadinejad’s government with a rallying point even as the street protests have fizzled.
Last week, Khatami said the Green Path of Hope will never die despite the clampdown. “Be certain that there is no going back in this movement,” he said.