New York Times: A group of Iranian clerics has issued an anonymous letter calling Iran’s supreme leader a dictator and demanding his removal, the latest and perhaps strongest rhetorical attack on him yet in the country’s post-election turmoil.
The New York Times
By ROBERT F. WORTH and NAZILA FATHI
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A group of Iranian clerics has issued an anonymous letter calling Iran’s supreme leader a dictator and demanding his removal, the latest and perhaps strongest rhetorical attack on him yet in the country’s post-election turmoil.
While the impact of the clerics’ letter, posted late Saturday on opposition Web sites, may have been diluted by the withholding of their signatures, two Iranian experts vouched for its authenticity. Its publication followed other unusual verbal attacks on the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in recent days.
Last week a group of former lawmakers issued their own letter calling his qualifications into question. A day earlier, a member of the state body empowered to dismiss Ayatollah Khamenei called for an “emergency meeting” to address criticisms.
The letters do not pose any real threat to Ayatollah Khamenei, who retains the loyalty of the security services and most of the political elite. The clerical establishment is heavily dependent on him, and scarcely any member would dare challenge him openly.
Still, the verbal attacks illustrate the erosion of a powerful taboo. Long unquestioned, Ayatollah Khamenei’s status as a neutral arbiter and Islamic figurehead have suffered in the weeks since he blessed the June 12 presidential election, which many Iranians believe was rigged. The harsh crackdown on street protests that followed has only deepened public anger with him. In recent days the phrase “death to Khamenei” has begun appearing in graffiti on Tehran walls, a phrase that would have been almost unimaginable not long ago.
In their 11-page letter, the clerics blamed Ayatollah Khamenei for the violence after the elections, in which dozens of people, and possibly many more, were killed.
They accused him of turning the Revolutionary Guards into “his own private guard, and the media into an instrument to defend and propagate him.”
The clerics wrote that fear of Ayatollah Khamenei made it impossible for them to sign their names: “there is such a dictatorship that we, as defenders of religion who are also close to public officials, have to practice Taqieh,” a reference to a Shiite practice of lying or concealment for expediency.
Initially, some Iran experts seemed skeptical about the letter’s origins, but a prominent Iranian cleric and a former lawmaker said on Sunday that they had spoken to some of the authors and had no doubt the letter was genuine.
The cleric who said he had spoken to the authors said they number several dozen, and are mostly midranking figures from Qum, Isfahan and Mashhad, where Iran’s major seminaries are located. The cleric — who spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reasons as the letter’s authors — said he had tried unsuccessfully to persuade them to sign the letter.
“The pressure on clerics in Qum is much worse than the pressure on activists because the establishment is afraid that if they say anything they can turn the more traditional sectors of society against the regime,” the cleric said.
As one indication, he noted that three senior clerics from Qum who have led Friday Prayer for years, but who signaled their support for the opposition movement, have been absent for several weeks.
The former lawmaker who said she had spoken to the authors, Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, said she found the letter significant because it gave reasons why Ayatollah Khamenei was no longer fit to rule.
“This letter is in fact pushing the movement one step ahead,” said Ms. Haghighatjoo, now a visiting scholar at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “This is a very sensitive issue because even criticizing the supreme leader was one of the red lines.”
For its part, the government has sought to silence the opposition movement with a mass trial, which held its third session on Sunday.
Charges were read out against 28 men who protested after the election, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported. Fars said many read out apologies in court, asking the judge to show “Islamic clemency.”
The news agency also emphasized one unusual theme: several defendants blamed opposition leaders or newspapers for persuading them to take to the streets and riot or protest.
One defendant, Mehrdad Aslan, singled out the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi.
Those accusations would appear to suggest a deliberate message from the authorities. A number of conservative figures have called in recent days for the arrest of Mr. Moussavi, who announced the formation of a new political and social movement on Saturday. In the past trial sessions, some defendants made confessions in which they recanted their political beliefs and blamed former allies. Their friends and relatives said those statements were coerced through torture.
As the trial continued Sunday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced his first six proposed cabinet appointments on state television, including two women and a new intelligence minister who is a loyalist with limited experience in security issues. All of the proposed ministers require approval by Parliament.
The proposed intelligence minister, a midranking cleric named Haidar Moslehi, is a former adviser to Mr. Ahmadinejad and had served as a representative of Ayatollah Khamenei in the paramilitary Basij organization.
Of the two female appointees, Fatemeh Ajorloo was named to run the Welfare Ministry and Dr. Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi was named to run the Health Ministry. Dr. Vahid Dastjerdi is an obstetrician, a former Parliament member and a conservative who called for the segregation of hospitals by gender several years ago.
In a move likely to arouse anger among his critics in Parliament, Mr. Ahmadinejad proposed to retain the minister of industry, Ali Akbar Mehrabian, despite his fraud conviction for stealing the design of an earthquake safe room.
A number of lawmakers, including the speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, have issued strong warnings to Mr. Ahmadinejad to name the most qualified people. Last week Mohsen Rezai, an influential senior conservative who ran against Mr. Ahmadinejad for president, said that a government “whose sole quality is that it conforms with the ideas of the president” would be weak.
French Defendant at Embassy
PARIS — The French government announced Sunday that Clotilde Reiss, a French schoolteacher charged with espionage in Tehran and accused of a role in the demonstrations after the Iranian election, was released from prison into the custody of the French Embassy.
Ms. Reiss, 24, who has denied the charge, will be able to live there until the verdict.
Robert F. Worth reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Nazila Fathi from Toronto.