TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s state prosecutor warned opposition leaders Thursday they could face trial if they do not denounce this week’s anti-government protests, the worst unrest since the aftermath of June’s disputed presidential election.
The prosecutor, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehei, said the opposition leaders could be accused of supporting people who defy God by protesting against the government last Sunday, when Shiite Muslims observed the sacred day of Ashoura. He said the leaders may face charges of “supporting apostates,” or those who go against God. At least eight people died during the protests and hundreds were arrested.
Ejehei’s comments, published in state-owned Iran newspaper, deepened the bitter internal strife in Iran.
Also Thursday, a group of government supporters, wearing white funeral shrouds to symbolize a willingness to die in defense of the clerical rulers, staged a rally in southern Tehran and gathered outside the offices of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, state radio reported.
At mass pro-government rallies around the country on Wednesday, some called for the execution of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and another top figure Mahdi Karroubi, both losing candidates in the disputed June 12 presidential election. The opposition contends the election was rigged and that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won by fraud.
The orderly and peaceful display of popular support for the government was in sharp contrast to the bloody crackdown by security troops and hard-line militiamen on opposition protests at the height of the unrest over the summer.
Iranian security forces crushed rallies against the government after the summer but they have regained momentum recently.
Officials said more than 500 protesters were arrested since Sunday’s clashes and the number could be even higher.
Many will likely be tried for apostasy, a crime punishable by death under Iranian law, as well as attempts to topple the government and fomenting the post-election turmoil.
Iran has already sentenced five defendants to death in an ongoing mass trial of more than 100 opposition activists and figures. More than 80 were sentenced to prison from six months to 15 years.
Ejehei said prosecution of the opposition leaders would not be forgotten.
“The charge of supporting apostates and those who defied God will be added to their past charges,” he said.
Iran’s deputy chief of judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi told the official IRNA news agency on Thursday that those detained over Sunday’s unrest would be charged with violating public order and “Moharebe,” which is Farsi for defying God.
The Iranian police released Thursday on its Web site about 100 pictures of protesters involved in Sunday’s rallies, asking the public to help identify and report them to the police because they were suspected of “damaging public property and insulting sanctities.”