Mir Hossein Mousavi, 67, commented cautiously on the events, biding his time and weighing his words carefully, as he has done so many times before. In his only comment on the matter, the former prime minister said: "Anyone who insults the Iranian president is insulting the Iranian people." Mousavi is the leading candidate of Iran's so-called "reformers" and "pragmatists," as the moderate conservatives call themselves. He is seen as the only opponent of the "principlists" -- the term used to describe the hardliners expected to throw their support behind current President Ahmadinejad in Iran's June 12 election -- who stands a chance of winning.
But Mousavi faces a difficult campaign. Although there is discontent in Iranian cities, primarily because of Ahmadinejad's disastrous economic policies, the down-to-earth and charismatic president remains popular in rural areas. Besides, Ahmadinejad can take advantage of all the trappings of a sitting president during his campaign appearances. Mousavi's only chance lies in his ability to convince younger voters and the middle class to go to polls on June 12. But this is precisely his biggest problem. Mousavi is not a known entity -- not yet, at least -- to many Iranians under the age of 30, who constitute two-thirds of the country's population.
Born near the city of Tabriz in northwestern Iran, Mousavi studied architecture and was a member of the underground resistance movement during the regime of former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. After the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, Mousavi became the foreign minister and, a few months later, the prime minister of the new theocracy. During Iran's eight-year war against Iraq, he proved himself a competent organizer of the wartime economy. But Mousavi did not distinguish himself as a domestic political reformer. In fact, his term in office was marked by a sharp rise in the number of arrests.
A sophisticated intellectual, Mousavi has not held any important state office since 1989, but he is a member of the so-called Expediency Discernment Council, which was set up to resolve conflicts between the parliament and the influential Council of Guardians. Despite past power struggles, his relationship with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has apparently recently returned to normal.
Saberi's defense team, which includes Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, has since filed an appeal against the ruling. Ahmadinejad himself, in a startling letter to Iran's judicial authorities, called for "fair treatment" of the journalist, a move some interpreted as a sign of a thaw in the country's relations with the United States, and of a speedy pardon. Ahmadinejad's sharpest political adversary was unwilling to comment on the case.
Mousavi met with SPIEGEL at the Iranian Academy of Arts in Tehran, which he co-founded 11 years ago, and of which he is president. The interview comes at the heels of SPIEGEL's conversation with President Ahmadinejad in mid-April, which attracted a great deal of attention in Iran and was quoted at length in most of Iran's daily newspapers. The influential paper Iran News even printed the interview verbatim. Mousavi's remarks can also be interpreted as his response to Ahmadinejad.