Burned Ayatollah photo sparks new Iranian protests

Burned Ayatollah photo sparks new Iranian protests

Iranian Police surrounded the campus of Tehran University today, trapping hundreds of students protesting what they said were fabricated government images showing the burning of a photo of the revered founder of the Islamic republic.

State television has repeatedly shown images, ostensibly taken during opposition protests on December 7, of unidentified hands burning the picture of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – a grave and illegal insult against a man who remains widely respected in the country.

The students protesting contend the images were fabricated by government agents and are being used to justify further crackdowns on the opposition.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for calm but indirectly accused the opposition of creating a hostile environment.

“Some have converted the election campaign into a campaign against the entire system,” Mr Khamenei said without naming any opposition leaders. “We call on those who are angry to remain calm.”

Reformists, including former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Musavi, maintain that their supporters had nothing to do with the burning of the picture, which they say is being used by the regime to discredit the opposition.

The December 7 rallies, the largest protests in months, did see numerous attacks on the current supreme leader of the country, Mr Khamenei.

Students chanted slogans against him, burned and trampled his photos in unprecedented acts of defiance in a country where Mr Khamenei has final say in all state matters.

Dozens of police surrounded the campus of Tehran University again today as hundreds of pro-reform students protesting inside denied the accusations they had any connection with the images.

The elite Revolutionary Guard, the country’s most powerful military force, called for the trial and punishment of those responsible for burning the photo as it continues to pressure the opposition.

“The Revolutionary Guard ... won’t tolerate any silence or hesitation in the immediate identification, trial and punishment of those carrying out this ugly insult and the agents behind them,” it said in a statement posted on its website.

Under the law, insult to the late or current supreme leader can lead to two years of prison.

The Guard, which is tasked with defending the clerical regime that came to power in Iran in 1979 under Mr Khomeini’s leadership after the pro-US shah was overthrown, was at the forefront of squashing Iran’s post-election unrest.

Reformists contend that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected in fraudulent June contests and for months protested against the government before widespread crackdowns.

The actions of the students reflect how a protest movement that began by rejecting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s June 12 re-election has evolved to confront the country’s ruling theocracy.

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