TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said on Monday that several foreigners conducting “psychological warfare” against the clerical system were arrested in last month’s bloody clashes between opposition supporters and security forces.
In the bloodiest unrest since the aftermath of a disputed June presidential poll, eight people were killed on December 27 and over 40 reformist figures, including four advisers to opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, have been arrested since then.
“Several foreigners are among those who were arrested on the day of Ashura ... they were leading a psychological war against the system ... They entered Iran two days before Ashura,” Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi told state television, without giving the foreigners’ nationality.
Iranian authorities have repeatedly accused opposition leaders of links to “foreign enemies,” warning that they will not tolerate any more anti-government protests after the turmoil that broke out during the Shi’ite ritual of Ashura.
The intelligence minister also said the case of the arrested foreigners would be handed over to the judiciary by Wednesday.
Neither the Iranian government nor the opposition and its supporters have shown much appetite for compromise in the six months since the disputed election and confrontation has escalated with a flood of accusations and counter-charges.
A representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said opposition leaders were ‘mohareb’ (enemies of God), which makes them fit for execution under Islamic law.
Hardline officials have accused the opposition leaders of causing tension in the country, urging Mousavi and another moderate defeated candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, to repent or “face charges of supporting apostates in defiance of God.”
Mousavi in a statement on Friday defied hardliners’ calls for his execution, saying he was not afraid of being one of the “martyrs who lost their lives in their fight for their rightful demands since the vote” and that Iran was in “serious crisis.”
Political unrest has entered a new stage since the Ashura clashes in which Mousavi’s nephew was killed. Police deny any involvement in the killings.
The government has stepped up a crackdown on the reform movement since Ashura. Opposition websites said that dozens of pro-reform students, activists and journalists have been arrested in the past few days in different cities.
Opposition website Jaras said more than 80 university teachers in a letter to the country’s most powerful authority have urged Khamenei to stop the “use of violence” by the security forces against pro-reform students.
“It is very difficult to believe that in the Islamic system some carry out attacks against university dormitories and beat students ... and arrest a large number of them,” the letter said, Jaras reported on Sunday.
“We are urging you to order an end to these acts and also to order the release of all arrested students since the vote.”
Iran’s General-Prosecutor Qolamhossein Mohseni-Ejei repeated the government’s warnings on Monday.
“Those who have been arrested during Ashura clashes face various charges, including acting against national security and will be severely confronted,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Mohseni-Ejei as saying.
The anti-government protests, which have erupted repeatedly since the election, have plunged Iran into the most serious internal crisis in the Islamic Republic’s 30-year history.
Mousavi supporters have defied government warnings not to hold “illegal rallies,” using opportunities like Muslim festivals to revive fresh street rallies against the government.
Opposition leaders say the presidential vote was rigged to secure Ahmadinejad’s re-election. The country’s highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it was the healthiest in three decades.
Hardliners criticized Mousavi’s latest statement, saying he was repeating his past mistakes.
Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by Peter Millership