Iranian security forces arrested several supporters of Hassan Rouhani after the moderate presidential candidate criticized heightened security measures in Iran during a rally, in which pictures of detained opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi were displayed, websites reported Sunday.
Cleric Rouhani – the most prominent moderate still in the race – addressed a boisterous crowd of hundreds of young supporters in Tehran’s northern neighborhood of Jamaran on Saturday.
“Why should there be a security atmosphere everywhere?” he said. “In the streets, universities, schools, organisations, we must put an end to this security atmosphere.”
Rouhani encouraged his supporters to head to the ballot box in droves. “Our people deserve more peace, more freedom, more prosperity, more honor and more security. This is only possible with your presence. Don’t let them discourage you,” he said.
The crowd punctuated his speech with chants such as “Rouhani, Rouhani, we support you.”
Media also reported that banners reading “Death to the dictator”, “Political prisoners must released” and “The prime minister of the Imam (Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini) must be freed,” were seen at the meeting.
Following the rally, plainclothes security officers and police units blocked nearby streets, reported Sahamnews, an opposition website close to Karoubi.
Opposition website Kaleme.com reported the arrest of seven participants of the rally, with relatives saying “they were taken to Tehran’s Evin prison”.
Conservative websites nasimonline.ir and alef.ir also reported the arrests and showed photographs of people holding pictures of former premier Mousavi at the gathering.
Mousavi and reformist Mehdi Karroubi were defeated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential election.
The outcome of the 2009 elections was contested by demonstrators, and led to deadly street violence and a bloody crackdown on dissent by the Iranian government.
Both Mousavi and Karroubi have now been under house arrest for more than two years.
Mousavi was prime minister, a now defunct post under the new constitution, from 1981 to 1989 during Khomeini’s rule.
A spokesman for Rouhani’s campaign did not confirm the arrests to AFP, saying that “some people tried to disrupt the meeting.”
Rouhani’s office issued a statement condemning “any improper action” and asking everyone to respect the law and remain calm.
The moderate Rouhani is one of eight candidates approved by the Guardians Council to stand for president on June 14.
He is considered close to former reformist president Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), and was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005.
Rouhani has been criticized by the campaign of current negotiator Saeed Jalili for being too compromising with world powers in talks over Iran’s atomic program. Rouhani has rejected that charge.
Although reformists are weak politically, Rouhani is hoping to harvest their votes along with those who would have voted for the former pragmatic president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Rafsanjani was disqualified from standing by the Guardians Council.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)