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In Iran, Call For Opposition Leaders' Executions Sign Of 'Panic'

  • Golnaz Esfandiari

Members of parliament shout slogans calling for the execution of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi.

Members of parliament shout slogans calling for the execution of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi.

The scene from Iran's parliament on February 15, the day after large antigovernment protests, could have been mistaken for a street demonstration itself.

Parliamentary deputies shouted, "Musavi and Karrubi should be executed!" and "Death to Karrubi, Musavi, and Khatami."

The lawmakers' wrath was directed at two opposition leaders -- Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi -- who had called for the February 14 rally in support of the pro-democracy revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

'Demand Capital Punishment'

Some 221 legislators signed a statement saying that the two men should be put on trial and face hanging for their responsibility in organizing the protests, which left two people dead. The statement read: "We believe the people have lost their patience and demand capital punishment" for the opposition leaders.

This isn't the first time officials have called for the two opposition leaders to be put on trial; they have done so several times since the massive 2009 street protests over the disputed reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

So far, though, the calls haven't resulted in any action, possibly because of the regime's fear that arresting the two could re-energize the opposition movement and turn them into heroes.

Nader Hashemi, who teaches Middle Eastern politics at the University of Denver, sees "panic" behind the new calls for a trial.

"Threats of violence and calls for the execution are the last refuge of people who've lost the battle of ideas," he said. "They can't win public arguments, either moral or political or intellectual ones, so they resort to threats of intimidation and thuggery."

Even so, hard-line lawmaker Ruhollah Hosseinian told Iran's state radio that lawmakers are gathering signatures in support of the trials. State Prosecutor Mohseni Ejei said the judiciary plans to deal with the organizers "quickly and decisively."

The February14 protests were the most significant since 2009 and saw demonstrators singling out Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in their chants, warning that he will face the same fate as Egypt and Tunisia's ousted presidents.

To Arrest Or Not?

Hashemi, who is the co-editor of a new book about Iran's opposition Green Movement called "The People Reloaded," says this new round of antigovernment street demonstrations is likely to generate an internal debate within the Iranian establishment over how to deal with Musavi and Karrubi.

"[The two] clearly can't be ignored anymore," he said. "But I think the dilemma really is...on the one hand wanting to crack down on them, wanting to bring them to trial, wanting to publicly humiliate them, but at the same time realizing that it has a cost for the regime. In other words, it elevates the prestige and importance and gives them a national and international profile."

Hashemi said that he believes the likelihood of Musavi and Karrubi being put on trial is higher now than before, but boils down to whether the regime is willing to pay the political costs of trying them.

Both men apparently remain under house arrest.

In a statement on his website, Musavi praised the protesters for turning out for the February 14 rally.

Late on February 15, Karrubi posted a statement on his website that said he is not afraid of threats and remains committed to the people.

"I am ready to pay any price on this path that is full of blessings," he said.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She can be reached at