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IRAN: Defying supreme leader, reformist Khatami continues to question election

November 7, 2009 |  8:16 am

Iran's Khatami Mohammad

Iran's moderate former President Mohammad Khatami continued to question the results of the June 12 presidential election, defying the nation's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said flatly last week that publicly voicing such doubts was illegal

"We should not decide for people," Khatami said in an a lengthy interview (in Persian) published today by Jamaran, a news website operated by the family of the Islamic Republic's revolutionary founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

"Nor should we restrict our people's choice and vote," he said. "Those who do not believe in the people's vote and even allow themselves to tamper with their votes or ignore them are unfamiliar with the Islamic Republic and revolution."

Khatami is a pillar of the country's battered reform movement and, along with presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, one of the three de facto figureheads of the opposition movement, which took to the streets again this week

All are under heavy surveillance and intense political pressure. Grass-roots opposition activists hunger for news and direction from the leaders, but have mostly had to make do without their guidance. 

In the interview, Khatami offered no new directives or vision for the movement. Instead he accused Iran's hard-liners of tarnishing the international image of the Islamic Republic.

"Today, the world looks at our Islamic establishment as an illogical, harsh, immoral and inhumane regime that does not respect its people's vote," he said.

Although the mood on the streets is getting more radical, Khatami placed himself squarely within the traditional camp of reformists, those who want to change the Islamic Republic from within. 

"We have to enforce the constitution, but as long as it is not interpreted arbitrarily," he said. "Why is the constitution being violated today? The constitution obliges the regime's leaders to respect people's vote."

Although some hard-liners have called for Khatami's arrest, he accused "certain individuals and organs" of breaking the law. "They only want to impose their own desires on people," he said. "They are ready to sacrifice every asset and they should not be allowed to run the country. ... The problem is that certain groups intend to bring the regime under their own control and allow themselves to treat their opponents in any manner."

Unless Iran's rulers learn to tolerate dissent, they will further solidify opinion against the Islamic Republic, he warned.

"The purge of sympathizers of the revolution under cover of baseless accusations constitutes the biggest-ever conspiracy against the Islamic Republic," he said. "It will drive social forces toward enmity with the regime and revolution."

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Mohammad Khatami in the U.S. in 2006. Credit: AFP/Getty Images