PHOTO: Supreme Leader and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani

In another sign of the escalating battle within Iran’s regime, the Tehran Friday Prayer has attacked former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Rafsanjani, the mentor of President Rouhani, has long been targeted by hardliners who accuse him of “sedition” for his defense of mass protests after the disputed 2009 Presidential election. Thought to be politically dead by 2011, the former President has recovered in recent years, even as he was disqualified from standing in the 2013 Presidential contest. The contest with the hardliners for influence has grown more intense with Rafsanjani’s imminent candidacy to lead the influential Assembly of Experts.

On Friday, Tehran Prayer leader Hojatoleslam Seddiqi warned, without named Rafsanjani:

The seditionists are laying out plans for the upcoming Parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections….Some seditionists have penetrated the executive body of the country [the Rouhani Government] and this is a serious warning for us.

I advise them to repent.

Introducing the Friday Prayer, Hojatoleslam Taghavi, the head of policy for Friday Prayer Imams, offered the same message:

Those who were involved in 2009 sedition and have been sentenced to imprisonment must not be allowed to be a part of the government….The media should introduce and dishonor the seditionists.

In a recent TV interview, Taghavi challenged Rafsanjani as he praised the Government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President Rouhani’s predecessor:

Ahmadinejad had given the most help and support to the institution of Friday Prayers. The Ahmadinejad Government had given the greatest support to the cultural and religious institutions.

Taghavi continued:

We had difficulty controlling the Friday Prayer that Mr. Hashemi led [after the 2009 election]….We managed to control that Friday prayer, but does it make sense to have to mobilize a whole army every time Mr. Hashemi wants to lead the Friday prayer?

Rafsanjani counter-attacked with a challenge to the hardliners’ use of State broadcasting, including a speech by MP Hamid Rasaei — a firm supporter of Ahmadinejad — accusing the former President of being “the head of the opposition to the Supreme Leader”.

Speaking at a conference on Prophet Mohammad, Rafsanjani said:

Unfortunately today, We are witnessing that [State broadcaster] IRIB is broadcasting divisive programs which is not going to help the Revolution and the country because our Revolution was the result of our unity.

Lying, oppression and unnecessary imprisonment are factors of division. No specific individual or institutions should be allowed to oppress others.

Rafsanajni later implicitly challenged the Supreme Leader in a speech to students. He told the audience that they should be after “real insight” and not “so-called insight that leads people astray”.

Lack of “insight” is a common phrase used by Ayatollah Khamenei and his supporters to explain why important individuals have supported “sedition”.

Rafsanjani’s confrontation of State broadcasting follows a clash this week between President Rouhani and IRIB.

The President said in a televised speech, “We thank IRIB very much indeed for only criticising us and not reflecting our services.” The broadcaster immediately cut the transmission.