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?”