TEHRAN - Some 116 Iranian reformists and liberal dissidents accused their conservative opponents Tuesday of clinging to power by misusing "sacred principles" and denounced their "reactionary interpretation of Islam."
Calling for extensive reforms and freedoms, they warned that without them the clerical regime would face the same fate as Iraq's Saddam Hussein and the Afghan Taliban.
"The instrumental use of sacred religious principles in order to keep power has dealt a hard blow to the confidence of the people," an open letter published in newspapers said, adding, "violence has nothing to do with Islamic mercy, denial of rights and freedoms has no religious justification."
Predominantly Shiite Muslim Iran is a theocracy, where the supreme leader, Aytatollah Ali Khamenei, and other clerics dominate the democratic political system.
"Denying legal rights and freedom cannot have a religious justification", the authors said.
"Insulting intellectuals, critics and lawful opponents in the name of religion, has inflicted deep damage to the moral values of the people."
"Unfortunately, certain institutions have arrayed their battalions against the popular will," the letter went on, adding that "there is no other way to save Iran from the whirlwind of plots and threats than to turn to the will of the people."
"We want a free and independent Iran, as we are afraid of the return of foreign domination or attack, so we hate religious dictatorship and the suppression of people's freedom," read the letter signed by deputies, journalists, intellectuals and student leaders.
Stating the case of reformists loyal to President Mohammad Khatami, the signatories underlined the need for referendums as "the final solution to a number of national problems".
They called for an end to arrests and "illegal" summonses by the courts, a ban on torture, an independent and impartial judiciary and trial by jury.
Jailed journalists should be released, bans on some 90 newspapers lifted and the press freed, they said.
The conservative-dominated Guardians Council constitutional watchdog should be deprived of its power to disqualify election candidates and "obstacles in the way of parliamentary" activities removed.
The signatories included prominent members of the main reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, and a number of members of the outlawed Iran Freedom Movement, including its founder, Ebrahim Yazdi.
Another signatory was university professor Hashem Aghajari, sentenced to death for blasphemy and currently being retried, reformist clerics Hassan Yusefi Eshkevari - who was also once given a death sentence - and Mohsen Kadivar, as well as relatives of disgraced Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.