By Thomas Erdbrink and William Branigin
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
TEHRAN, June 30 -- Iran's religious and political leadership warned domestic opponents and Western powers Tuesday that no further protests against a disputed election would be tolerated following official certification of a landslide victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Although the opposition continued to demand that the June 12 election results be annulled on grounds of massive fraud, an intensifying government crackdown appeared to close off avenues for protesters to pursue what they described as a reformist campaign aimed at creating a more open society.
The warnings by Ahmadinejad and leaders of Iran's Shiite Muslim theocracy came a day after the Guardian Council, a top supervisory body, dismissed all opposition complaints of fraud and affirmed Ahmadinejad's reelection, which had already been proclaimed by the Interior Ministry and endorsed by Iran's supreme leader. The announcement set off nighttime shouts of protest from Tehran's rooftops, but heavy deployments of security forces headed off new street demonstrations.
In another sign of the growing restrictiveness, authorities Tuesday presented to local news media detained Canadian Iranian filmmaker and Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari, who described Western journalists in Iran as spies. He also said he had covered "illegal gatherings" and helped promote a "color revolution" in Iran, a reference to democratic movements in former communist countries of Eastern and Central Europe earlier this decade.
In a speech at the Intelligence Ministry on Tuesday, Ahmadinejad said, "The overt and covert conspiracies of enemies for soft regime change in Iran were defeated," the pro-government Fars News Agency reported. He lashed out at Western nations for their response to his government's crackdown on protests and called on Iranians to use all means "to break the monopoly of the global powers."
In Qom, the Shiite holy city that is a base for leading clerics, the influential head of a Shiite seminary decreed that "opposing the view of the Guardian Council is not legal, religious or socially acceptable."
Ayatollah Morteza Moghtadai called for a continued clampdown on opposition demonstrations, saying that "the view of the leadership is the last word, and everybody in the country must obey it," Fars reported.
The Association of Combatant Clerics, a leading reformist group, reiterated a demand that the election be annulled, saying that "the damaged confidence of the people will not be restored" by the Guardian Council's ruling. However, the group's statement signaled waning fervor for opposition demonstrations. "We reserve the right to protest against the result of the election but believe that people should not pay any higher price and that escalating tensions and street protests are not the solution," it said.
In a news conference, Bahari, who was arrested June 21 without charge and had been held incommunicado since then, made what was described as a confession after being introduced by authorities as a "former BBC reporter." The BBC has come in for particular vilification by the government lately for its reporting on Iran's political turmoil.
"The activities of Western journalists in news gathering and spying and gathering intelligence are undeniable," Bahari said, according to Fars. He also denounced "the widespread presence of American journalists in our country."
There are currently 15 U.S. media representatives permanently active in Iran; some are dual nationals.
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Bahari is one of more than 20 media representatives who remain in custody following the reported release Tuesday of 22 who were picked up last week at the office of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi's banned newspaper.
Joel Simon, the committee's executive director, said he was concerned about Bahari and about "the broader effort to vilify the role of the international media in Iran." He noted that Iranian authorities "invited the international media to come to Iran to cover the election" when they wanted to highlight a positive story. "Then the story changed, and the media reported it, and now they're blaming the media for doing its job," Simon said.
The fact that Bahari "has been in custody for some time before making these statements leads one to conclude that they were not made freely," Simon said.
Branigin reported from Washington.