[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/17/art.rafsanjani.afp.gi.jpg caption="Rafsanjani remains an influential figure in Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's circle."]
TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) - One of Iran's most powerful clerics, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has called on the Iranian government to release those people arrested following last month's disputed presidential election.
"There is no need to have these numbers of people in prison," the former Iranian president said during his highly anticipated Friday sermon.
"Let them come back to their families. Let the enemy not laugh at us and criticize us. We must sympathize with those who have suffered damages. The system cannot lose them. If the system reapproaches them they will come back to us."
Tens of thousands of people gathered in and around Tehran University as Rafsanjani spoke for about an hour, according to witnesses at the speech. Iranian police used tear gas to disperse some of the crowds.
Rafsanjani backs reformist Mir Hossein Moussavi, the opposition candidate who challenged hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the disputed June 12 vote.
After weeks of silence, Rafsanjani has become increasingly vocal in opposing the brutal crackdown on demonstrators who protested election results.
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