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Iranian leaders resist growing demands for referendum on constitution

Hardline parliamentarians insist only response to recent unrest is for violent protesters to be executed

Protesters throwing a small explosive device at a banner depicting the Islamic Republic's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei near the central city of Isfahan. Photograph: UGC/AFP/Getty Images

The Iranian leadership is resisting growing demands from clerics and some reformist politicians to stage a new referendum on Iran’s constitution as hardline parliamentarians meanwhile insist the only response to the recent unrest sweeping the country is for violent protesters to be executed.

The power struggle among the country’s rulers appears to leave the government sending out mixed messages on how to respond to the protests, but in practice the security forces have gone ahead with a severe crackdown and arrested nearly 10,000 people, including 60 journalists.

But some senior members of Iran’s multi-faceted administration have in recent days gone on to university campuses in a bid to open a dialogue with the protesting students, or to blame the country’s problems on the previous administration led by President Hassan Rouhani. Ministers are facing demands to release the hundreds of students and teachers still detained.

Students were outraged when on Sunday 220 hardline Iranian lawmakers urged the judiciary to deal decisively with perpetrators of unrest, a wording that was taken to mean executions. Faced by a backlash the spokesperson for the parliament said on Tuesday the call had been misinterpreted by western media and a distinction had been drawn between protests and riots, adding no appeasement was possible for those that had killed others.

Iran’s spokesperson for the judiciary, Masoud Setayeshi, said at a news conference in Tehran that cases had been filed against 1,024 protesters in Tehran.

In a largely leaderless revolution, clerics and some students are making demands that the regime try to resolve the crisis by holding an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers. The original Iranian revolution in 1979 was endorsed by a simple referendum in which all Iranians aged over 16 were asked: “Should Iran be an Islamic Republic?”

The call for a new referendum was first made by Iran’s leading Sunni cleric Molavi Abdulhamid, who is based in the south-eastern city of Zahedan. “Hold a referendum and see what changes people want and accept whatever the wishes of the people. The current policies have reached a dead end,” he said.

“This constitution itself was approved 43 years ago and those who compiled it have all left and another generation has come. This law should also be changed and updated. Many clauses of this law are not up to date.

“It has been said many times that this law should be put to a referendum, but unfortunately nothing has been done and even the same law of 43 years ago has not been properly implemented.”

His call to renew the government’s legitimacy was supported by the Union of Islamic People Party led by Azar Mansoori. “Lack of political legitimacy is the most obvious threat to the country’s national security,” she said. “Do you want to make legitimate changes? Don’t erase the problem, find out the reason for the people’s protest and ask yourself is there any way other than free elections and an independent civil society?”

Hossein Noorani Nejad, a reformist member of Mosharekat Party, writing in the Etemaad newspaper, said support for the referendum was growing by the day, adding it may be the last chance to find a reform solution.

Mohammed Hosseini, vice-president for parliamentary affairs, however said in a question and answer session with students that referendums were for individual issues and could not be held to judge the principles of Iran’s governing system. He said the protests had been continuing for 50 days, and there had to be a red line.

Faced by a walkout and some barracking by the students, he continued: “Some people are trying to create fratricidal war in the country, and want to turn us into Syria. Do you think Saudi Arabia which kills its young opponents wants to teach Iran a moral lesson with the media that it has arranged against us?”

A large group of students at Tehran’s Sharif University rallied on Tuesday to protest against threats, arrests and pressure on students. In a statement the students said: “This is Sharif University. This is not a prison. This is Sharif University, not Qasr prison of the country’s intelligence and security organisation.”

The students demanded the authorities end their repression, and respect the autonomy of academic life. “Free our classmates, stop ridiculous plans such as banning students from entering the university, remove your uniformed forces from the university, provide a suitable space for academics to express their views,” a statement said.


(c) The Guardian 2022



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