DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A senior cleric who is close to Iran’s supreme leader said in a prayer sermon Friday that anyone who engaged in violence in protests over alleged fraud in the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should receive the “severest of punishments,” according to state broadcasting.
Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a confidant of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, described the unpermitted public gatherings and rallies as against Islamic law.
In the prayer sermon, he described anyone taking part in “destructive acts” as “muharib,” enemies of God whose annihilation by true believers is religiously sanctioned.
“Anyone who takes up arms, be it guns or knives, is a muharib, and Islam has said that muharib should receive the severest of the punishments,” said Khatami, who shares a last name with a popular former reformist president but has opposite political views.
After refusing to grant demonstrators permission to protest election results, the government has increasingly cast those who massed in the streets for a series of peaceful rallies as extremists opposed to the government or dupes of antagonistic foreign governments.
Khatami did not directly equate peaceful protesters with rioters, but most observers say that distinction may be lost on the club-wielding pro-government Basiji and Ansar-e Hezbollah vigilantes who have allegedly been beating demonstrators. Critics regard their actions as an attempt to terrorize dissidents into submission.
Khamenei last week appeared to give such militiamen sanction to crack down violently on protesters, sparking fiery riots through central Tehran, the Iranian capital, the following day.
In Washington, President Barack Obama offered his highest praise yet for Ahmadinejad’s challenger, and said more strongly than before that his long-standing diplomatic goal of engagement with Iran could be affected by the election crisis.
“There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks,” Obama said following a White House meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “And we don’t yet know how any potential dialogue will have been affected until we see what’s happened inside of Iran.”