Iranian security officials on Tuesday confiscated more than half a million wallet-size cards and posters endorsing Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani for president from a printing house in Tehran, according to employees of the shop.
Employees said the posters and cards contained the words "repression," "terrorizing," "freedom" and "democracy."
"They said, 'The words you are using are offensive,' " said Mahmmoud Reza Bahmanpour, managing director of Nazar Printing House in downtown Tehran. He and other employees said several plainclothes agents, displaying a handwritten letter bearing the seal of Iran's judiciary, carried away 500,000 wallet-size cards and 70,000 posters. The material endorsed Rafsanjani, the former president whom Iran's reformers have rallied around in order to defeat the clerical establishment's apparent favorite in Friday's runoff ballot.
The incident highlighted the growing tension surrounding the election, in which Rafsanjani will face the mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Reformers and other candidates have alleged Ahmadinejad's unexpectedly strong second-place finish in the first round was engineered by hard-liners, in part by mobilizing government-sponsored militias and elements of the Revolutionary Guard at polling stations.
"They gave orders to their soldiers, the people under their command, to go and vote for a specific person," said Mehdi Karrubi, a moderate cleric who finished third in the race.
Karrubi told reporters Tuesday that he had given tapes and photographs supporting his allegations to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "Now it's his responsibility to talk about what has happened," he said.
Ahmadinejad's positions have alarmed reformers as well as those with more traditional views. In a recent interview with state television, he said he would shutter the Tehran Stock Exchange because the uncertain nature of trading offended the tenets of Islam. "The sort of work they do in the stock exchange is like gambling, so it has got to be closed," he said.
The candidate also told parliament this week that he would work to eradicate Western influences from Iranian culture, echoing the crusade against "Westoxification" that occurred after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Ahmadinejad, 49, has attracted many working-class and poor voters with a low-key campaign that has cast him as a humble, pious public servant sympathetic to the plight of average people. A spokesman for the mayor's campaign said that image plays well with voters wary of Rafsanjani, who the spokesman said tolerated corruption in some people around him during two previous terms as president.
Rafsanjani, 70, meanwhile, sought to cast himself as the enlightened choice. On Tuesday, he visited Tehran University, where he got a mixed response and was questioned on killings and other violations of human rights that took place during his 1989-97 tenure.
"I believe that I was the prime mover in establishing reforms, and Khatami's government took further steps," news agencies quoted him as saying, in reference to incumbent President Mohammad Khatami. "Definitely, it should go on."
Reformers acknowledge Rafsanjani's early record but emphasize that the most urgent reason they support him is because they fear Ahmadinejad.
The Rafsanjani posters and wallet-size cards carried away by security agents Tuesday were designed to attract people who cast ballots for Mostafa Moin, the main reformist candidate, in the first round.
The poster read, "We supporters of Dr. Moin, in order to confront repression and terrorizing, will vote Hashemi,' " referring to Rafsanjani by his middle name. The cards said: "We supporters of Dr. Moin, in order to avoid the demolition of freedom and democracy, vote Hashemi."
Bahmanpour, the printing shop's managing director, said he asked the agents if the cards could have been printed if the words "democracy" and "freedom" were omitted. They said yes.
Recalling the incident, the printer held two fingers an inch apart.
"We have this much democracy," he said. Then he spread his arms wide. "And this is how much we desire.
"We are struggling to keep what we have."