Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karrubi has reportedly been placed under house arrest after requesting permission to hold a rally in support of anti-government protests in Egypt and Tunisia.
According to his official website, sahamnews.org, security officers were stationed at the entrance of Karrubi’s Tehran home on February 10 and one of his aides was detained.
Karrubi and fellow opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi had earlier requested permission to organize the rally on February 14, setting the stage for what could have been the first mass opposition demonstration in the country since those that followed the disputed 2009 reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
The request was denied by Iranian authorities in a possible sign of concern that the antigovernment protests engulfing much of the Middle East in recent weeks could spread to the Islamic Republic.
Spirit of '79?
State Prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei said those wishing to show solidarity with Egypt and Tunisia should join in the state-organized rally that is set for February 11, in commemoration of the 1979 revolution.
Iranian state media has sought to portray the wave of Middle East protests as in the spirit of 1979, when Iran was transformed into an Islamic republic.
On February 4, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei described the regional uprisings, in which protesters have demonstrated against corruption, political repression, and economic woes, as an “Islamic awakening.”
State Prosecutor Ejei was quoted by Iranian media as saying the opposition’s demand to hold a separate rally was politically motivated and divisive.
“Choosing another day would mean that [the opposition] have separated themselves from the people and that would lead to divisions and discord,” he said. “This is a political act, but the people have to be aware, and if required, they will respond to them.”
That choice of words usually indicates that security forces and the militia will take action.
One listener in Iran who gave her name as Shahla told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that she would only attend a rally that is organized by the people, not the authorities.
“If the protest will be organized by people, yes, I’ll participate. If it will be organized by the government, no, I won’t," she said. "The protests in our country are contrary to the way they are set up all over the world. All the rallies held in our country are organized by the government, but anywhere else on the world, the rallies are purely organized by people themselves.”
Karrubi will reportedly be under house arrest through February 14, the date of the planned opposition rally.
The authorities’ targeting of Karrubi comes amid other examples of increased pressure on the opposition over the past 24 hours.
According to reports, at least five people linked to Karrubi have been arrested, including Taghi Rahmani, who campaigned for the reformist cleric ahead of the 2009 election.
Rahmani has spent around a third of his life in jail.
“Bultannews,” which said to be close to the government, claimed Rahmani had a “major role” in the “illegal gatherings” of the opposition movement.
There are also reports of increased Internet filtering in recent days, a tactic routinely used by Tehran to block the free flow of information.
A senior commander of the Revolutionary Guard in Tehran, Hossein Hamedani, told the official IRNA news agency that opposition members will be dealt with by force if necessary.
"The seditionists are nothing but a dead corpse and we will strongly confront any of their movements,” he told IRNA.
He said every year as the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution approaches, Iran’s “enemies” get active to discourage people from participating in state-organized demonstrations to mark the day.
"The seditionists should know that no one will be fooled by them anymore to protest against the result of the vote. We definitely consider them as counter-revolutionaries and spies, and we will strongly confront them,” he said.
Meanwhile, a Facebook page dedicated to the planned February 14 opposition rally is gaining members, both among Iranian expats and Iranians inside the country.