A group of Iran’s leading clerics have lined up in support of the country’s beleaguered political opposition and against a former member, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, The New York Times reported.
The group, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, was formed during the Iranian revolution and has a reputation for independence, according to the paper.
In a statement, the association criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government for using excessive force in quelling protests that erupted after the June 12 vote, and for not properly investigating vote-rigging claims.
The move represented an act of defiance against Iran’s supreme leader, who has said that Ahmadinejad’s reelection is the will of God, according to the Times. Until recently, Khameini held sway over all Iran’s affairs without challenge.
“This crack in the clerical establishment, and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi, in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic,” Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University, told the paper. “Remember, they are going against an election verified and sanctified by Khamenei.”
The statement makes it more difficult for the government to make the case that presidential candidate Mir Huddein Mousavi and his supporters are traitors or Western stooges, the Times reported.
And the support couldn’t come soon enough.
An Iranian newspaper closely tied to the government ratcheted up pressure on reformists for a second day on Sunday.
The editorial in the conservative Kayhan newspaper, questioned how the reformists should be dealt with, saying they "would be a dangerous opposition if they were to win, and set the streets on fire when they lose."
A day earlier, one of Khamenei's top aides wrote in Kayhan that Mousavi is an American agent, seeming to pave the way for his arrest.
But Mousavi is not backing down.
On Sunday, his website posted documents accusing the government of bribing voters and printing 20 million extraneous ballots, according to the Times.
In the aftermath of Iran’s disputed vote, more than a thousand people have been arrested, including scores of journalists. At least 20 demonstrators have been killed, according to reports.
Ali Reza Beheshti, 47, a close Mousavi ally and son of one of the main leaders of the 1979 Islamic revolution, also urged the parliament to reverse the election results, saying that "people expect their representatives to represent them and not to defend authorities by any means."
"I wish the lawmakers would respect the demands of the majority of their constituents" and submit a bill disqualifying the president, Beheshti was quoted as saying on the pro-Mousavi Web site, Norooznews. Beheshti, who ran Mousavi's now-banned Kalemeh newspaper, is the younger son of Ayatollah Mohammad Hossein Beheshti, Iran's top judge who was killed in a bombing in 1981.
Another defeated candidate, Mahdi Karroubi, also said he would continue his fight even though "we may face difficulties on the way," he was quoted as saying Sunday on his Web site. The comment came in a speech to his supporters late Saturday in which he also said that many lawmakers, "including conservatives, do not support the winner of the election."