OPPOSITION group members in Iran are putting their lives at risk by draping large images of their leader in exile from bridges and flyovers in cities across the country, as it prepares for tomorrow’s presidential election which could decide the direction of its future relationship with the West.

President Hassan Rouhani, 68, is seeking a second term in office, but is facing a strong challenge from hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56, who has the backing of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards. Raisi was also one of four Islamic judges who ordered the execution of more than 30,000 political prisoners in 1988, which is reflected in the wording on some of the protestors’ literature.

The activist network of the main Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK), has been running an extensive campaign calling on Iranians to boycott the elections.

Loading article content

Mehdi is an engineering student from Tehran who has been helping distribute posters of Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Speaking exclusively to The National, he admitted that he was risking his life, but said: “We believe that freedom is worth these risks. Overthrow of the dictatorial regime comes at a heavy cost and we are prepared to pay it as many people have done before.

“Our role models are the members of MEK — we believe in them.”

He said that despite the risks of supporting MEK, voters were not ignoring the protests: “The reaction of people is very positive, they are tracking our activities over the internet and TV and we see the effects of our acts in their talks on buses, the metro, and so on. The 1988 massacre has been highlighted in society so much recently, it has swayed a lot of people and most of them mention it as a reason for boycotting the election.

“The two wings of the regime are the same in suppressing speech, executions, violation of human rights, so we expect the West to not believe that this regime can moderate itself — this is a mirage.

“The West should recognise and help the Iranian people and the resistance.”

Although seen as a reformer when he won in 2013, Rouhani is facing an uphill struggle after his failure to boost Iran’s economy following years of sanctions.

Rajavi has previously been highly critical of both factions of the regime, and said it had to be overthrown. She said: “Why should the Iranian people jump from the frying pan into the fire? The Velayat-e faqih regime [absolute rule of the clergy] must be overthrown in its entirety.”