Iranian opposition figure Mir Hossein Musavi has compared Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the late shah, who was toppled during the 1979 Islamic Revolution after a brutal crackdown on protesters.
The comments posted on the opposition Kaleme website on November 30 came amid a deadly government crackdown on street protests in Tehran and other Iranian cities that Amnesty International says has killed at least 161 people over the past month.
Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, has labeled the protests and the related violence the work of a "very dangerous conspiracy," with the government blaming "thugs" linked to its opponents in exile and traditional enemies the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Tehran was "deliberately covering up" the extent of the repressive measures taken against those who took part in days of unrest, initially over fuel-price increases but later widening into an anti-government movement.
In his comments, Musavi made a reference to the September 1978 "Black Friday" massacre by soldiers of the shah that rallied public support and led to the toppling of the Western-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
"The killers of the year 1978 were the representatives of a nonreligious regime, and the agents and shooters of November 2019 are the representatives of a religious government," he said.
"Then the commander in chief was the shah. Today, here, it is the supreme leader with absolute authority."
He called on the government to "pay attention to the repercussions of the Jaleh square killings" of 1978.
Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi ran in the June 2009 presidential election but lost out to hard-liner Mahmud Ahmadinejad. The result led to mass demonstrations, with protesters saying the vote was rigged.
Musavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard, and Karrubi have been held under house arrest in Tehran since 2011 following calls by the opposition leaders for rallies to be staged in support for pro-democracy Arab Spring uprisings throughout the region.