A week after unidentified men attacked president Hassan Rohani’s vehicle as he was driven from Tehran airport after returning from the UN General Assembly in New York, which former president Mohammad Khatami characterized as a “pre-organized event,” Rohani made a completely unprecedented announcement that he would confront such autonomous groups.
At the same time, a number of domestic media reported on the event and spoke of the need to “dry up” the group that had become known in the 90s as the “pressure group” and prior to that as the “Hezbollah.” Rohani’s remarks were unprecedented because no president in the Islamic republic had so expressly announced that they would “confront” these groups.
The president’s words carry weight because of his security background and the presence of numerous security personalities in circles close to him.
Following Wednesday’s cabinet session, Rohani said, “There is no doubt that we will confront these autonomous rogue groups. The government wants it to be known that there is no ambiguity about this. We request that such bad behavior be set aside so that the government, judiciary or security agencies do not have to intervene, because when the government itself welcomes criticism and the critics, there is no need for such behavior. I have waved and smiled to friends and critics because they are all my fellow nationals and I must counsel them. The administration does not intent to file lawsuits but intends to rid the country of extremism. Our Prophet believed that the first response to a person’s bad behavior was to show a displeasing face and then counsel them. I think our elections showed very clearly what people want. So I request all groups who have not yet stopped their past practices to remove their earplugs and hear the message of the people.”
Read related article by Tehran's Bahar daily (in Persian)
Former reformist president Khatami however, does not use the word “autonomous” for these groups and responded to the incident a day before Rohani. He said, “This destructive group is organized and not rogue. I am sure that the supreme leader does not consent to such practices. Won't showing violence mean giving them (Westerners) excuses to increase their pressure and exacerbate their threats, and increase their Islamophobia and Iranophobia?”
But he did not stop there and issued a warning that if such “destructive practices are not stopped, they will eventually lead to assassinations, like they did during the reform period.”
Others seemed to be joining in. Majlis deputy Abdolkareem Hosseinzadeh echoed these sentiments from the parliament’s floor when he said, “I request that the judiciary confront such actions which are insulting to the senior officials of the country.”
Prior to these remarks, there had been some reports that the plainclothesmen who had attacked the president’s convoy were affiliated to the Steadfast Front, presidential hopeful Saeed Jalili and ultra-conservative cleric Mesbah Yazdi, all of whom have become quite isolated since the June elections.
Mohammad Sadegh Shahbazi, a Rohani protester, worked for presidential candidate Saeed Jalili
Majlis speaker Ali Larijani’s aversion to these groups is no less than those of Rohani as these very groups were responsible for disrupting his revolution anniversary speech earlier this year in the city of Qom.
The website Bahar News’ response was indicative of the direction of the new winds. It wrote, “The identity of these groups indicates that while they lack public support, they continue to enjoy the support of circles inside the state at a level that allows them to attack the president, Majlis speaker, the head of the state expediency council, their families and even the relatives of ayatollah Khomeini.” The story argued that because of a weak response to them, the groups have become more aggressive in their actions. “Intelligence and security agencies have demonstrated that when they confront such groups with full force, they can even arrest senior officials of the state and send them to prison,” it wrote.
Judiciary Threatens “Seditionists”
But in contrast to these views, the head of Iran’s judiciary issued a warning to the “Seditionists of 2009,” i.e., individuals and groups who publicly and massively protested the official results of the 2009 presidential election, resulting in trials, sentences and imprisonment of many reformist individuals. As reported by ISNA student news agency, Amoli Larijani told a group of judiciary officials, “Seditionists should know that there is no room for a repeat of their seditious activities and that they will be forcefully confronted.”
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