Iranian Reformists Stage Bold Move

In a daring move, more than 100 reformist legislators accused Iran's supreme leader of trampling on freedom and basic rights, sending him a letter seen Tuesday by The Associated Press.

The legislators — including deputy speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami (search), a brother of President Mohammad Khatami (search) — criticized Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (search) for allowing the disqualification of about 2,400 liberal candidates in parliamentary elections set for Friday.

It is very rare for anyone in this Islamic state to publicly criticize Khamenei, seen by his supporters as being incapable of error and answerable only to God.

"The popular (1979) revolution brought freedom and independence for the country in the name of Islam, but now you lead a system in which legitimate freedoms and the rights of the people are being trampled on in the name of Islam," the legislators said in the letter.

"Institutions under your supervision, after four years of humiliating the elected parliament and thwarting (reform) bills, have now, on the verge of the parliamentary elections, deprived the people of the most basic right — the right to choose and be chosen," the letter said.

The letter was sent to the ayatollah on Monday. It was not expected to be published in Iranian newspapers, but AP obtained a copy.

A lawmaker who signed the letter, Reza Yousefian, told AP that Khamenei had not reacted by Tuesday afternoon, and that he and his colleagues in the outgoing parliament did not expect him to react.

"The state-media have ignored, and will ignore, the letter because the rulers don't want the nation even to hear criticism of Khamenei," he said. "But who doesn't know in this country that freedom has been slaughtered in the name of Islam by few unelected clerics?"

Yousefian is one of 80 sitting lawmakers banned from running for re-election under the sweeping disqualifications issued by the hard-line clerics of the Guardian Council. The ayatollah appoints the 12 council members, and only he can overrule their decisions.

President Khatami condemned the disqualifications and initially said his government would not hold elections under such conditions. But earlier this month, the president bowed to Khamenei's authority and said the vote would go on. But he warned that the lack of a fair choice would cause voter apathy.

Hoping to reach a compromise, the president had also pushed for a postponement of the vote — an option Khamenei rejected. The ayatollah also ruled it illegal for anyone to resign over the crisis, as provincial governors had threatened.

In their letter, the legislators said: "We believe postponement of elections was not illegal because this election is neither fair nor free. Those who demanded postponement were the president, the parliamentary speaker, lawmakers and provincial governors, not America or what you called the enemy," the letter said.

Khamenei is known for blaming Iran's troubles on the United States and unidentified "enemies."

The mass disqualification of reformists means hard-liners are assured of winning Friday's polls and regaining control of legislature, which they lost in 2000 for the first time since the Islamic Revolution 25 years ago.

President Khatami won office in 1997 on a program of liberalizing Iran, increasing political freedoms and relaxing the strict Islamic social code. Unelected hard-liners of the Guardian Council and the judiciary have blocked his reforms, shut down liberal publications, and detained dozens of reformist journalists and political activists.