The Iranian regime sent a message in a sermon from its capital today, and it did not involve a national reconciliation. Ahmed Khatami, apparently no relation to reformer Mohammed Khatami, urged harsh punishment on those protesting the rigged election. Khatami, a hard-liner within the regime, also disputed the narrative surrounding Neda Soltan:
In the latest sign that the regime is not bending, Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami, a senior cleric, said during nationally broadcast Muslim sermon on Friday that the government should punish “leaders of the riots, who were supported by Israel and the U.S., strongly and with cruelty.”
In his sermon at Tehran University, Khatami also accused foreign journalists of false reporting on post-election Iran.
He alleged that an icon of the protests, Neda Agha Soltan, was killed by protesters, not Iranian security forces quelling unrest. “Forces of the government do not shoot at a lady standing in a side street,” he said of Soltan, who was shot to death a week ago.
Basij militiamen have broken up even small groups of people walking together to prevent any possible gathering. Still, dozens of friends and relatives of Soltan managed to pay tribute Friday, arriving at Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in groups of two and three, uttering brief prayers, placing flowers on Soltan’s grave and then leaving, witnesses said.
Others have translated Khatami’s sermon to demand execution of the protesters. That sends a rather chilling message to Iranians who may have been on the fence over the crisis. The penalty for opposition to the mullahs is death, perhaps always understood but also perhaps never put so bluntly. Khatami’s sermon was broadcast on national television, so the official nature of this threat is crystal clear.
On Neda, the Iranian regime can’t get its story straight. The mullahs accuse the protesters of killing Neda Soltan in Friday prayers, while their diplomats tell a different story abroad. Andrew Malcolm notes that Mohammed Ghadiri, Iran’s ambassador to Mexico, says the CIA killed Neda:
GHADIRI (through translator): In our view, this would be the work of those who wanted to put more fuel to the flame against the government.
I’ll tell you what Mr. Andreotti, who was an Italian politician who was the Prime Minister of Italy. Mr. Andreotti was talking about a terrorist group, the Gladiators, and CIA had found that. And therefore, the United States was for the Communists to come to power during the election. That’s why they would terror assassinate anti-Communist people and politicians and they would blame the Communists for that.
It’s natural that the public opinion may believe that assassinated person like that was an anti-terrorist, anti-Communist. The public opinion could be formed that the Communists had assassinated the terrorism. This is the thing that has been continued.
My question is that how is that this Nada was shot from behind and several cameras take that. And this is done in an area where there was no important demonstration. If the CIA wants to kill some people and attribute that to the elements of the government, and then choosing a girl would be something good for them because it would have much higher impact.
Therefore, we believe and we are looking into this to find who the elements were who did this.
BLITZER: Are you seriously accusing the CIA of killing Neda?
GHADIRI (through translator): We say that the bullet that was found in her head was not a bullet that you could find in Iran.
These are the bullets that the CIA and terrorist groups use. Of course they warned that there would be a bloodshed in these demonstrations and then they could attribute that to the Islamic republic. This is part of a common act of CIA in various countries.
BLITZER: Do you really believe that, Mr. Ambassador?
You’re a distinguished diplomat representing Iran. This is a very serious accusation that you’re making, that the CIA was responsible for killing this beautiful, young woman.
GHADIRI (through translator): I’m not saying that the CIA had done this. There are different groups. Could be intelligence services, could be CIA, could be the terrorists.
The regime plans to paint everyone arrayed against them as either CIA stooges or terrorists, a convenient artifice. Not too many people will buy the notion of the CIA killing a female bystander, though, especially not with the Basij wielding guns and axes in the streets.