| Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Tehran, July 15 (Reuters): Some 350 reformist intellectuals urged Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today to end repression and free political prisoners, saying the Islamic Republic must choose between democracy and despotism.
The politicians, academics, activists and lawyers said Khamenei, Iran’s most powerful figure, should overhaul the hardline judiciary and conservative institutions that have blocked much of moderate President Mohammad Khatami’s reforms.
Around a dozen journalists have been arrested since violent protests last month and one Canadian photographer died after being detained. Some 4,000 were arrested during the student unrest in which slogans targeted both hardliners and reformers.
“Resorting to violence, crackdowns and authoritarian methods, as we see today towards students, will bear no result but exacerbating the crisis,” said the letter to Khamenei. “Such methods... are not only illegal and lack popular, religious and moral legitimacy, but are also useless and inefficient,” it said.
The letter was the latest in a string of missives sent by parliamentarians and dissidents calling for change. Last month 250 intellectuals wrote an open letter accusing the clerical establishment of putting themselves in the place of God.
Pro-reform journalist and former deputy culture minister Issa Saharkhiz, whose office distributed the letter to the media, was arrested today on unspecified charges, his office said.
The manager of the magazine Theatre Sinema was also arrested on charges connected to a picture published in it, the ISNA student news agency said.
The intellectuals’ letter to Khamenei reflected a debate over the precedence of the Islamic or the republican side of the Islamic Republic; whether officials appointed by Iran’s top cleric Khamenei or those popularly elected should hold sway. “We believe the Islamic Republic is now in a vital dilemma,” it said.
“One way is to succumb to a despotic interpretation of Islam and the constitution by appointing people who do not have any standing before public opinion... whose measures have led to a storm of frustration,” it said.
“The other way is to succumb to a democratic interpretation of the constitution to save the country and repel foreign threats.”
With US troops at both Iran’s front and back doors in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has come under increasing pressure over allegations it was developing nuclear arms and backing terrorism.