Supporters of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have stepped up their criticism of Iran’s Supreme Leader, following the arrest and imprisonment of Ahmadinejad’s closest allies.

In a letter published on Ahmadinejad’s outlet Dolat-e Bahar, about 300 signatories — identified as “Hezbollah activists” who are “academics, seminary activists and a group of individuals in charge of revolutionary organizations” — challenged Ayatollah Khamenei’s leadership.

The signatories questioned the performance of “the Government, the President, the Parliament, the Judiciary, Guardian Council, State TV, the foreign diplomacy apparatus, Friday prayers leaders, the Assembly of Experts, and the Intelligence organizations”. They asserted that the regime is “lifeless and fragile from within and in need of fundamental reforms”.

The Ahmadinejad supporters then turned to Khamenei, saying he was responsible for the problem as the individual “responsible for introducing those reforms, [which] no other official can or is entitled to do”.

A “Widening Divide”

Ahmadinejad had an often-tense relationship with Khamenei from the disputed 2009 election to the end of his second term in 2013. In 2011, the President staged an 11-day boycott of his duties, in a struggle for control of Ministries, and he then accused the Revolutionary Guards and other groups of corruption.

The contest has resumed with Ahmadinejad’s attempt to return to frontline politics. The Guardian Council blocked his candidacy, as well as that of his former President Hamid Baghaei, for the Presidency in 2017.

Baghaei has now been sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption. Senior advisor Ali Akbar Javanfekr is threatened with detention, and former Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashai has been arrested.

In a largely symbolic step, a Parliamentary Audit Court has convicted Ahmadinejad of taking $1.3 billion in Government revenues and ordered repayment of the money. However, in his speeches the Supreme Leader has implictly drawn the line against the former President’s detention.

In their letter, the Ahmadinejad supporters referred to the crackdown on the aides, describing the judiciary as “the center of oppression and imposition”. They also echoed Ahmadinejad’s call — ironic in view of his dubious re-election in 2009 — for free and fair campaigns and votes, calling the Guardian Council “an apparatus that prevents the election of qualified individuals supported by the people”.

According to the signatories, Iran’s intelligence organizations, “particularly the IRGC [Revolutionary Guards]”, are “an apparatus that instead of making the country secure, protect the rulers and power gangs, and impose pressures and limitations on political and media activists”.

Referring to January’s protests across Iran, the letter warned Khamenei against “social collapse” with “the widening divide between the people and the Government, doubting the ideals of the revolution and current political structure”.

It summarized that “the future generation might remember the Islamic Republic as an unsuccessful experience”.