(CNSNews.com) – Next week’s anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution is shaping up to be a key indicator of the opposition’s resilience. The regime, in a continuing clampdown, last week executed two of 11 protestors who recently were sentenced to death.
On Saturday another 16 Iranians went on trial. They were arrested during the last round of protests, in late December, when hundreds of people were arrested and at least eight killed.
The semi-official Press TV news channel said that the 16 were working in the interests of the United States and other countries “seeking regime change.” The ISNA news service said five of the accused face charges of “mohareb,” a capital offense translated as “enmity with Allah.”
The escalation of punitive measures comes just days before the Feb. 11 anniversary of the 1979 revolution, in which the Western-backed Shah ousted by fundamentalist supporters of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei.
The day (Bahman 22 on the Persian calendar) has traditionally been marked by patriotic celebratory rallies across the country, but since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election last June, opposition supporters have hijacked important days on the Iranian calendar to protest against the government.
Demonstrations took place on a day in September that usually focuses on the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem; a customarily anti-U.S. Students’ Day in early December, and again late that month during Ashura, a major Shi’ite holiday.
Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, leaders of what has become known as the “green movement” that was galvanized by the election dispute, have “invited” supporters to display an “extensive presence” on Feb. 11.
Mousavi, a former prime minister, and Karroubi, a former parliamentary speaker, both ran against Ahmadinejad in the June poll. The official result gave the incumbent 63 percent of the vote to Mousavi’s 34, after an exercise marked by allegations of massive vote-rigging.
In their joint statement, published on Karroubi’s Web site, the two leaders also expressed regret at the two executions carried out on Thursday, saying they were apparently aimed at scaring people so they would not demonstrate on the anniversary.
The executed men were accused of plotting to topple the Islamic regime. Iran’s judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadiq Amoli Larijani, said on Sunday they were “moharebs” and had been fairly judged on the basis of shari’a.
Tehran is responding to the challenge both by stepping up intimidatory warnings and, evidently, by trying to divert attention away by planning a major announcement on the anniversary.
Ahmadinejad said during a cabinet meeting on Sunday that Iran would make an important announcement on Feb. 11 that would serve as a harsh blow to its enemies. He hinted previously that the announcement would relate to new achievements in Iran’s uranium enrichment drive.
Ahmadinejad has told organizers of the anniversary ceremonies that a “massive turnout” on the day would once again show the world “that they were wrong about the people of Iran.”
But the regime appears reluctant to take any chances. The head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in Tehran, Brig.-Gen. Hossein Hamedani, was quoted by ISNA as warning that the “green movement” would not be allowed to make an appearance on Feb. 11.
“Any voice, color and gesture which is different from that of the Islamic revolution and from Iranians’ voice should be driven out of people's marches,” he said, adding that any offenders would be “severely dealt with.”
The IRGC, together with the volunteer militia known as the Basij, played a leading role in the violent crackdown on protests after the election and in the months since.
As the important Bahman 22 holiday looms, opposition supporters are increasingly coming under fire from numerous quarters in the Iranian establishment.
The armed forces chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, said in a statement that the Iranian public believed that those who tried to undermine the legitimacy of the Islamic republic “must be strongly and harshly dealt with and must receive tough penalties.” Like others he painted the protesters as “hirelings” of outside powers.
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who led Friday prayers in Tehran, urged the judiciary to act harshly against the “moharebs” and not show any “weakness.”
Pro-government lawmakers also weighed in Sunday, urging “prominent figures” –opposition leaders – to use the anniversary as an opportunity to renew their allegiance to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“We advise the prominent figures who fanned the flames of dispute to make good on their mistakes and remain committed to rule of law,” and to take a stand against the conspiracies of the “enemies,” said a statement signed by more than 200 of the 290 members of parliament.