Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told university students Saturday that tolerance could resolve the issue of political prisoners, as some of them chanted for opposition leaders under house arrest to be freed.
“My government is committed to the promises it has made to the people, but we need to create internal consensus to achieve the objectives,” Rouhani told students at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.
“We need tolerance and patience… We need to distance ourselves from an emotional atmosphere. Reason and moderation can resolve the issues,” he added during the meeting, organised to mark Students’ Day.
He was speaking in reaction to some students chanting slogans calling for the release of political prisoners. Among them are opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who have been kept under house arrest since February 2011 and without being officially charged.
Those chants provoked opposing slogans from students affiliated with the Basij militia, who called for “seditionists” to be hanged. That is a term coined in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election to describe pro-reform supporters of Mousavi and Karroubi, who took to street in massive protests.
In response to the chanting, some of which was broadcast on state television, Rouhani called for the resolution of this thorny issue, which has shadowed his government since taking office in August.
“If we cannot solve an internal issue of ours with calm and reason, within the framework of the law and with internal consensus, how can we resolve the complicated issues of the region and the world,” he asked.
Rouhani, a moderate mid-ranking cleric who campaigned for more domestic freedom, defeated a pool of conservatives with key backings from Iran’s marginalised pro-reform factions.
Following the release of several prisoners in September, he expressed hope that more would be freed but made no direct promises.
Government spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said last week that “lifting the house arrests” was on “the president’s agenda,” adding that the administration preferred to talk less and instead take more action on such issues.
“People should trust this administration. For some issues, it is better for the government to act instead of talk,” Nobakht said.
Rouhani’s remarks came a day after hardline Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a Friday prayer leader in Tehran, said the 2009 unrest was not just a protest but “a crime and a betrayal” against the Islamic establishment.