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Clashes In Iran As Regime Backers Call For Execution Of Opposition Leaders

  • RFE/RL

People take part in the funeral in Tehran of Sanee Zhaleh, a student who was shot dead during an opposition rally on February 14.

People take part in the funeral in Tehran of Sanee Zhaleh, a student who was shot dead during an opposition rally on February 14.

Violence has erupted on the streets of Tehran during the funeral of a student who was shot dead during an antigovernment protest on February 14.

Witnesses told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that supporters of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's regime interrupted a funeral march for the student, a Sunni Kurd named Sanee Zhaleh.

They say many members of Iran's volunteer Basij Resistance Force arrived at Tehran University just as the funeral procession was beginning. Iran's regime has also called a rally in Tehran for Friday to express "hatred" against the opposition movement.

Several of Zhaleh's fellow students were reportedly beaten by Basiji, as one caller, who identified himself as Behzad, told Radio Farda:

"Hello, I'm Behzad. There is information I want to give you. I ask you to announce it right now. Do whatever you can do. Students are stuck inside the arts university. They went there to take part in the funeral of their martyr. Now they are stuck inside the hall of the arts university, and Basijis are attacking them. The Basijis are armed. They are entering the hall. I ask you to air this news. The students are in a terrible situation. Please spread this information."

The regime backers -- who also included members of parliament and Iran's Revolutionary Guards -- chanted demands for the death of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi, as well as calling opposition supporters "rebels" who deserved death.

Basij Affiliation 'False'

Each side is blaming the other for Zhaleh's death. State media reported that Zhaleh was shot dead with a handgun by a protester during the February 14 rally. Opposition websites say security forces fired the weapon that killed Zhaleh during a police crackdown on the rally.

Regime backers and state media claim Zhaleh was a member of the Islamist volunteer Basij militia and a "defender" of Ahmadinejad's regime.

But Hatef Soltani, a friend and fellow student, told Radio Farda today that the state media reports about an affiliation with the Basij were false. He noted that Zhaleh had been pictured with a prominent dissident cleric, the late Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri.

"News about [Zhaleh] being a member of the Basij is totally false," Soltani said. "Zhaleh's photo was taken with Ayatollah Montazeri. He was a Kurd and a Sunni Muslim. All of this indicates that his ideas were not in line with those of the Basij."

Soltani said Zhaleh had been a member of the opposition Green Movement and a Musavi supporter. In fact, Soltani said, Zhaleh worked at the headquarters of Musavi during the presidential campaign of 2009.

The opposition website reported that Zhaleh's family "was under pressure to say he is Basiji and pro-government."

Meanwhile, relatives of protesters who were arrested in Tehran during the February 14 rallies are reported to have been beaten by special police when they tried to obtain information about their jailed family members.

Rights activist and blogger Kouhyar Goudarzi told Radio Farda that relatives of the detained were beaten late on February 14 in front of a police station and again on February 15 in front of the Tehran prosecutor's office.

Goudarzi said that during the February 15 incident, Revolutionary Court officials eventually read a list of 1,500 names of detained opposition protesters, announcing that they had all been transferred to Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

The figures provided by Goudarzi, a journalist for the Committee of Human Rights Reports, could not be independently confirmed.

Charges Of 'Sedition'

Iranian prosecutors have said that "several" people were arrested during the February 14 protests. They say some were released already but more arrests are expected.

It was Musavi and Karrubi who called for the demonstration on February 14 that brought thousands of people onto the streets of Tehran in solidarity with recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Iran's chief prosecutor, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, said today that the authorities were planning to take action against Musavi and Karrubi on charges of "sedition."

The two opposition leaders, who continue to reject the official 2009 election results that brought Ahmadinejad to a second term as president, were effectively placed under house arrest to prevent them from joining the opposition rally.

In separate statements, Karrubi said he was ready to "pay any price" to achieve democratic change in Iran, while Musavi praised the protesters for turning out for the February 14 rally.

written by Ron Synovitz, with Radio Farda's Hossein Aryan and contributions from Farangis Najibullah