ISTANBUL, Turkey — Hard-line militants in Iran defaced the Tehran apartment block of senior opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, using splashes of blood-red paint and graffiti to step up the conservative campaign to silence the former presidential candidate.
Right-wing officials have accused Karroubi, former candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and former President Mohammad Khatami, of “sedition” for continuing to reject as fraudulent the June 2009 reelection of arch-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Weeks of street violence followed, during which scores of activists of the opposition Green Movement were killed by pro-regime security forces, more than 100 hundred were tried, and thousands were arrested in the most serious crisis faced by the Islamic Republic in nearly 30 years.
Spray-painted black graffiti on the apartment read “Death to Karroubi” and “Death to Khatami,” according to photographs published on Monday by the government-run Borna News Agency.
In one image, a bearded man with an untucked white shirt and a white scarf with thin black lines – the typical “uniform” favored by hard-line militants and ideological Basij militiamen – used a can of spray paint in daylight to write “the donkey Karroubi” and “the donkey Mousavi” near the front door.
“They vandalized the building. These are thugs who are on a payroll” and had the “support of intelligence and police forces,” Fatemeh Karroubi, the cleric’s wife, was quoted on Monday as saying on Karroubi’s website Sahamnews.
“I’m both happy and sad. I’m happy because amid the current chaotic economic situation, the government … has created jobs in this way,” Mrs. Karroubi quipped. “At least a small benefit of this conduct is that the thugs are busy destroying and insulting the supporters of the [1979 Islamic] revolution, which in a way stops them harassing people and the youth.”
During the presidency of Mohammad Khatami from 1997 to 2005, a core of hard-line vigilantes of Ansar-e Hezbollah [Followers of the Party of God] and the legions of their basiji brethren routinely used clubs and chains to attack reformist political meetings, disrupt speeches, close newspapers and quell student protests.
They remained largely inactive as regime enforcers during Ahmadinejad’s first term, except against targets such as women’s rights campaigners and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.
While police looked on, for example, Ms. Ebadi’s home and offices were targeted by vigilantes on Jan. 1, 2009, with red and black graffiti, aimed at unsettling Iran’s best-known human rights lawyer. “Ebadi, death to the witch of America,” it read, and accused her of serving as a “pen of the enemy.”
Of the dozens of protesters shown in the street outside Karroubi’s residence on Sunday, several women held up printed posters that charged the two-time former parliament speaker with working for Israeli intelligence: “The illiterate Karroubi, Mossad’s agent.”
Another poster stated that protesters were from the “Public Headquarters for Following Up Punishment of the Heads of Sedition.” The women carried portraits of Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
Borna and the Fars News Agency, which has links to the elite Revolutionary Guard, identified the protesters as “students and families of martyrs” of the Iraq-Iraq War of the 1980s. Borna reported that the protesters demanded that Karroubi – a former head of Iran’s large Martyr’s Foundation – be defrocked and put on trial.
Since the summer, Karroubi has compiled testimony and made allegations about rape, torture and serious that took place in Iran’s prisons and detention centers during the unrest. The charges – and deaths of some protesters in custody – electrified Iran’s ruling elite.
“The demonstrators in a statement asked Karroubi to repent, otherwise the heads of the sedition would be caught by the Imam and the martyrs’ curse and the wrath of the hezbollahi nation,” Borna reported. “They announced their readiness to sacrifice their lives on the path of the [Supreme Leader].”
Mrs. Karroubi said it was the wrong time to make politics of the memory of the martyrs, who fought in what many Iranians consider a sacred war against Iraq.
“Exploiting and defaming in the name of martyrs’ families is an unforgivable atrocity some corrupt people in the government have resorted to in recent years,” she wrote in her web posting.
“I advise the wise people of the ruling [conservatives] to avoid such primitive methods and not to worsen the situation,” Mrs. Karroubi said, adding that she had a number of damaging details to disclose if such pressure continued. “I assure them that I would have infinite points to tell people who are the genuine confidantes of the revolution, if they continue this ignorant approach.”
The incident comes as Iranians prepare on Tuesday night to celebrate Charshanbe Soori, an ancient fire-jumping festival in which Iranians have for centuries – long before the advent of Islam in the seventh century – prepared themselves for the advent of the Persian New Year, which begins this weekend.
Traditionally, families and friends make fires in the streets and jump over them, and let off firecrackers and explosions. In the past, local authorities have helped organize events.
But wary that the street party could turn into another Green Movement protest – as has taken place during a number of pro-regime rallies in recent months — this year the top decisionmaker in Iran said it was un-Islamic.
The ritual has “no basis” in Islamic law and “creates a lot of harm and corruption, [so] it is appropriate to avoid it,” Ayatollah Khamenei said on his website.