Senior Iranian clerics reject re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Posted in Iran | 06-Jul-09 | Author: Julian Borger| Source: The Guardian (UK)

Iranian clerics talk to another during a Friday prayer ceremony at the Tehran University campus in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 26, 2009.

Deepening splits among Iran's clergy came to the surface today , with a senior clerical group calling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election "illegitimate".

The Assembly of Scholars and Researchers at Qom seminary, the centre of Shia learning in Iran, rejected the official results and called for the release of political prisoners. "Other candidates' complaints and strong evidence of vote-rigging were ignored ... peaceful protests by Iranians were violently oppressed ... dozens of Iranians were killed and hundreds were illegally arrested," a statement on its website said. "The outcome is invalid."

It also questioned the credibility of the guardian council, the conservative clerics who said the elections were free and fair. The Qom group said the council no longer had the right "to judge in this case" and that some members had "lost their impartial image in the eyes of the public".

The Qom assembly is a pro-reform group with limited political influence, but the statement is important as it represents an open challenge to the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who declared Ahmadinejad the winner and ordered an end to debate on the result.

Protests have been quashed with force and mass arrests. The head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, said yesterday that the clampdown would be extended to satellite TV and internet networks. At the same time, the regime made some concessions to international pressure, releasing the eighth of nine British embassy employees detained last month, along with Iason Athanasiadis, a journalist with dual British and Greek nationality.

The embassy employee was not named, but is an Iranian citizen like all the staff picked up after the protests. The only remaining embassy detainee is Hossein Rassam, a respected political analyst who has been told he will face trial on charges of harming national security. Rassam's lawyer said he had not been allowed to visit him in prison or read the charges.

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, said yesterday that Rassam was "an honourable, patriotic Iranian, who has been working in a completely open and transparent way for the UK".

"The allegations of improper conduct have absolutely no basis," Miliband told the BBC. "I think it is very, very important that we send a clear message that we are confident about the way he has been doing his job [and] that we are clear about our goal, which is his release, unharmed."

General Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, the chief of police, said two-thirds of the arrested demonstrators had been released, some on bail. He said about 1,000 were arrested, but human rights groups say up to 2,000 dissidents are being held.

"How should the Islamic Republic treat such groups? They would be a dangerous opposition if they were to win, and set the streets on fire if they lose," the conservative newspaper Keyhan said in an editorial.