Iranian cleric urges firm punishment for protesters

Two weeks into turmoil, Iran’s leaders turned up the heat Friday as a high-ranking cleric warned protesters that they would be punished "firmly" and shown no mercy.

“Rioters and those who mastermind the unrest must know the Iranian nation will not give in to pressure and accept the nullification of the election results,” said Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami during Friday prayers in Tehran, according to Iran’s state-run Press TV. “I ask the Judiciary to firmly deal with these people and set an example for everyone,” Khatami said. Khatami also blamed demonstrators for the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who emerged as a powerful symbol of opposition after her death a week ago was captured on a cell phone video. Khatami said the foreign media had used Neda for propaganda purposes. International journalists have been restricted from covering events unfolding within Iran. Many journalists, both Iranians and foreigners, have been detained by the government. The human rights group Amnesty International called Friday for their release. “The Iranian authorities must immediately release dozens of journalists arrested since 12 June and who are at risk of torture in detention,” the rights group said in adopting detained journalists in Iran as prisoners of conscience.

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“Rather than trying to investigate alleged abuses, the only message the authorities are sending is that they are seeking to hide the truth, both from their own citizens and the rest of the world,” Amnesty said. It said 20 of 25 employees of Kalameh Sabz, a newspaper established by opposition candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, were arrested at their office in Tehran’s Haft Tir Square on Monday and have been detained at an undisclosed location. Amnesty gathers its information from media reports and a network of local correspondents. Watch cartoonists’ take on Iranian unrest ยป Human Rights Watch, another group that has been monitoring the situation by interviewing people in Iran, said Friday that Iran’s paramilitary Basij is carrying out brutal nighttime raids, destroying property in private homes and beating civilians in an attempt to stop nightly rooftop chants of “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). The nighttime chanting is emblematic of the protests 30 years ago during the Iranian revolution, which toppled the monarchy of the shah. “While most of the world’s attention is focused on the beatings in the streets of Iran during the day, the Basiji are carrying out brutal raids on people’s apartments during the night,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. “Witnesses are telling us that the Basiji are trashing entire streets and even neighborhoods as well as individual homes,” she said. Residents from northern Tehran neighborhoods told Human Rights Watch that the Basij fired live rounds into the air, in the direction of buildings from which they believed the chants were sounding. Basij members kicked down doors and “when they entered the homes, they beat” people, a resident said. The rights group said it had collected similar accounts of violence from several other neighborhoods. The accounts are consistent with numerous accounts CNN has received of nighttime roundups of opposition activists and international journalists from their homes. Amateur videos sent to CNN also show members of the Basij, wearing plain shirts and pants and wielding clubs and hoses, dispersing protesters and beating a handful of Iranians at a time. Watch how Unrest in Iran erupted after the June 12 presidential elections in which hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner. Ahmadinejad’s chief rival, Moussavi, called the results fraudulent and has asked for a cancellation of the vote. Members of Iran’s National Security Council have told Moussavi that his repeated demands for the annulment are “illogical and unethical,” the council’s deputy head told the government-run Iranian Labor News Agency. Esmaeel Kowsari told the news agency Friday that the council met with Moussavi, former presidential candidates Mehdi Karrubi and Mohsen Rezaie, and former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who now chairs the Assembly of Experts. The assembly is responsible for appointing or removing the supreme leader. The National Security Council, which includes dozens of political leaders, assists Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s unelected supreme leader. Together, they set the parameters of regional and foreign policies, including relations with Western powers, and the country’s nuclear programs.

It was not clear when the Security Council meeting took place, but based on information from it, the NSC will prepare a report and make recommendations to parliament in light of the candidates’ complaints, the Ministry of Interior, the Guardian Council and “higher levels,” Kowsari told the news agency. The Guardian Council, which approves all candidates running for office and verifies election results, has declared that there will be no annulment of the votes.