Students moved to the forefront of opposition on the streets with massive protests last week. They say authorities are using the images of students burning photos of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as a pretext to crack down ontheir protests, which have helped to revitalise the pro-reform movement.
State television has repeatedly shown images, ostensibly taken during student-led protests on December 7, of unidentified hands burning and tearing up pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini. It is considered a grave and illegal insult against the former leader, still widely respected in the country. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei yesterday warned opposition leaders to distance themselves from protesters he accused of acting against Ayatollah Khomeini.
Student activists say authorities are trying to discredit them just as they begin to put up a new, powerful challenge to the regime.
The opposition's mainstream leaders have struggled to dent the power of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran's clerical leadership. Students at Tehran University played a major role in demonstrations in support of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the pro-US shah and brought Iran's clerical rulers to power.
Reformists contend Mr Ahmadinejad was re-elected by massive vote fraud, a belief that brought hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets at the height of post-election unrest. The protests evolved into a broader confrontation against the country's ruling theocracy, but died down in the face of a harsh crackdown by security forces.
Former president Mohammad Khatami, a prominent opposition voice, said yesterday the students were not responsible. "Do not use the Imam to justify a harsher approach against those you do not like," he said on a pro-reform website Parlemannews.