TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s opposition leader asked authorities Sunday for permission to hold a memorial service for victims of last month’s post-election unrest, including a young woman whose death was caught on video and became a symbol for protesters.
Iranian authorities have pressured the families of slain protesters not to mourn publicly out of fear the gatherings could spark the kind of demonstrations that followed the June 12 presidential vote, according to the opposition.
Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and fellow pro-reform presidential candidate, Mahdi Karroubi, sent a request to the Interior Ministry to hold a memorial service in Tehran’s Mosalla mosque Thursday to commemorate the end of the 40-day mourning cycle for at least 10 people killed on June 20, Mousavi’s top aide Ali Reza Beheshti told the Associated Press.
Hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters took to the streets following the election to protest hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed victory. Iranian security forces cracked down violently, and at least 20 protesters were killed during the unrest, according to police. Rights groups believe the number could be far greater.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say over all state matters, has demanded the opposition drop its claims that the election was marred by massive vote fraud. But Mousavi and his supporters have kept up the pressure by criticizing the state’s harsh response and reaching out to top clerics for support.
One of those killed on June 20 was Neda Agha Soltan, a 27-year-old woman shot to death on the sidelines of a Tehran demonstration. Her dying moments on the street were caught on a video viewed by millions on YouTube, and she became an icon in the opposition’s struggle.
Mousavi and Karroubi attempted to assuage concerns that the requested memorial would spark additional unrest, saying it “will be held without any speeches and will be limited to the reciting of the Qur’an (the Muslim holy book) and moments of silence.”
The government’s concern about unrest has historical precedence. The deaths of protesters during the 1979 Islamic Revolution fueled a 40-day cycle of mourning marches, and shootings of mourners, that contributed to the overthrow of the U.S.-backed dictator, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Authorities allowed a close ally of conservative presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei to hold a funeral in Tehran on Friday for his son, who was arrested during a protest on July 9, the pro-reform norooznews.org Web site reported. He was taken to a hospital two weeks later where he died from his injuries hours after being admitted, it said.
His father had scheduled to hold a memorial for his son Sunday but cancelled the ceremony at the last minute without elaborating, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.
Tension following the election has not been limited to recriminations between hard-liners and reformists. Ahmadinejad caused an uproar among conservatives last week by defying an order by Khamenei to dismiss a controversial figure as his top deputy.
Although Ahmadinejad relented on Friday, the controversy over Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, who angered conservatives last year when he made friendly comments toward Israel, continued to have repercussions at the highest levels of government.
The presidential office announced the dismissal of Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi. No reasons were given but the two did differ over Mashai as well as about publicizing confessions of detainees.
The semiofficial Mehr news agency also reported that three other ministers had been sacked, including Culture Minister Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi, who had walked out of a Cabinet meeting Wednesday to protest Mashai’s appointment.
The president’s office denied the Mehr report and the state-run Press TV later said the other dismissals had been revoked.
Although Ahmadinejad agreed to abandon his quest to make Mashai his first vice-president, he appointed him as his chief of staff Saturday, setting up another potential tussle with conservatives.
Meanwhile, a group of hard-line students asked Iranian lawmakers to summon Ahmadinejad to parliament to question why he waited almost a week to obey Khamenei’s order to dismiss Mashai.