Opposition detained by security forces

Mohammad Ali Abtahi is a genial cleric and Tehran's first politician to keep a blog, which has made him an Iranian cyber star.

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Mohammad Ali Abtahi is a genial cleric and Tehran's first politician to keep a blog, which has made him an Iranian cyber star. He once posted a photograph from his mobile phone of a prominent conservative journalist picking his nose. This week, he was detained by security forces: one of a growing number of leading opposition intellectuals, politicians, journalists, bloggers and human rights activists rounded up by the jittery regime to prevent them mobilising opposition to President Ahmadinejad's "stolen" election victory.

Their detention will only fuel the anger on the streets. Mr Abtahi was a vice president under Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, and a senior campaign adviser to Mehdi Karrubi, a reformist presidential challenger. Yesterday, two prominent supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist presidential candidate whom the opposition insists was the winner of Friday's allegedly sham election, were detained. One was Saeed Laylaz, the editor of a business daily who frequently gave interviews to western media.

He was quoted as saying after the election: "I'm sure they didn't even count the votes. I do not accept this result. It is false." Also detained was Mohammad Reza Jalaipour, a leading member of Mr Mousavi's campaign who was arrested at Tehran airport as he was about to return to Britain, where he studies at Oxford University. His famous father, Hamid Reza, a sociologist, also was detained but later released. A decade ago, as editor of reformist newspapers serially shuttered by the regime, Mr Jalaipour senior was so accustomed to being hauled before courts he would arrive carrying his toothbrush, ready to be jailed.

Another Mousavi campaigner, who has shed blood for his convictions, was arrested yesterday. Sa'id Hajjarian, while serving as Mr Khatami's political strategist nine years ago, was shot in the head by Islamic vigilantes, leaving him with permanent injuries. Other prominent reformist figures are proving impossible to silence. There was a stinging rebuke by a dissident grand ayatollah, whose religious ranking trumps that of the embattled supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"No one in their right mind can believe" the official results, declared Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, once the officially designated successor of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. "A government not respecting [the] people's vote has no religious or political legitimacy," he added in a web statement from the holy city of Qom, where he lives effectively under house arrest.

Although a bête noire of the regime after Ayatollah Khomeini sacked him as his anointed heir in 1989 for lambasting the treatment of dissidents and calling for an open government, the octogenarian grand ayatollah remains one of Iran's most venerated clerics. With human rights activists predicting many more arrests, other senior reformists will be packing their toothbrushes and kit bags. mtheodoulou@thenational.ae