Iran’s show trial and Iranian police tear gas, arrest Neda mourners

More on Iran from the National Post.

Khatami denounces ‘show trial’ of Iran protesters

Parisa Hafezi, Reuters Published: Sunday, August 02, 2009

Iranian cleric Mohammad Ali Abtahi (C), a member of the Assembly of Combatant Clerics, gives testimony at a revolutionary court in Tehran on Aug. 1, 2009 during the first hearing in the trial of 100 people accused of rioting. FARS NEWS/STR/AFP/Getty Images Iranian cleric Mohammad Ali Abtahi (C), a member of the Assembly of Combatant Clerics, gives testimony at a revolutionary court in Tehran on Aug. 1, 2009 during the first hearing in the trial of 100 …

TEHRAN – Iranian authorities have tightened pressure on their opponents by staging what former president Mohammad Khatami condemned on Sunday as a “show trial” of 100 reformists accused of trying to instigate a “velvet revolution”.

The trial was the latest shot in an official campaign to snuff out defiance by those who say Iran’s June 12 election was rigged to ensure the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, due to be sworn in by parliament on Wednesday.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has endorsed the election result and demanded an end to protests, will formally approve the hardline incumbent for a second term on Monday.

Khatami, several of whose close associates were in the dock on Saturday, said the trial violated Iran’s constitution.

“Such show trials will directly harm the system and further damage public trust,” he said on his website (www.khatami.ir). Another court session is scheduled for Thursday.

Defeated election candidate Mirhossein Mousavi dismissed what he said were confessions made under duress.

“The torturers and interrogators have gone to such lengths that their victims are among those who gave great services to Iran in the past,” he said on his website Ghalamnews.

“Soon we will see the trials of those who committed these crimes, the torturers and interrogators.”

Iranian officials deny any fraud in the election, in which Ahmadinejad was declared to have won 63% of 40 million votes cast, against 34% for his nearest rival Mousavi — who says the next government will be illegitimate.

Even some hardliners criticised the trial and the official portrayal of protesters as bent on overthrowing the system.

Emad Afrough, a former pro-Ahmadinejad lawmaker, was quoted by Etemad daily as saying that people who described election protests as a velvet revolution should themselves be tried.

The mass trial of dozens of reformists, including senior officials such as Khatami’s former vice-president, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, paraded in prison dress without his clerical turban, has no precedent in revolutionary Iran’s 30-year history.

Proceedings were closed to all but state media. Many of the defendants had spent weeks in jail without access to lawyers. Some, like Abtahi, appeared to have lost weight and spirit as they assured the court that the election was free and fair.

The defendants were charged with rioting, attacking military and government buildings, having links with armed opposition groups and conspiring against the ruling system, the official IRNA news agency said. Some admitted guilt.

State television showed Abtahi testifying that the vote was valid and apologising for his “misjudgments”. He said Mousavi, Khatami and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had taken an oath of mutual support before the vote, IRNA reported.

This was denied by Rafsanjani, an influential cleric and veteran of the 1979 revolution who heads the Assembly of Experts that appoints and can, in theory, dismiss the supreme leader.

Although Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia suppressed huge post-election rallies, opposition leaders remain defiant.

Their supporters again braved batons and tear gas last week to mark the 40th day after the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman shot on the sidelines of a protest. Film of her last moments was broadcast on the Internet.

The aftermath of the election has exposed deep schisms within Iran’s clerical and political elite, with Ahmadinejad coming under fire from many conservatives as well as reformists.

His appointment as vice-president of a man mistrusted by hardliners for remarks on Israel and for hosting an event they deemed un-Islamic prompted a veto from Khamenei last month.

Ahmadinejad veered close to defying the supreme leader by delaying a week before obeying his order and then naming the same man, Esfendiar Rahim-Mashaie, as his chief of staff.

He also sacked a hardline intelligence minister who had criticised his actions, while his culture minister resigned.

Ahmadinejad told rivals on Friday that trying to split him from Khamenei was futile because they were like father and son.

Yet the same day, hardline cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati publicly rebuked Ahmadinejad in a nationally broadcast sermon.

And on Sunday, the president’s media adviser and close ally, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, made public his resignation, which local media said had been offered two weeks ago but not accepted.

After his inauguration, Ahmadinejad has two weeks to submit his cabinet list to the mostly conservative parliament, which may resist if he only names members of his inner circle.

One prominent conservative MP, Ali Motahari, criticised the president’s handling of detainees, asking why he had waited until the supreme leader had ordered a “sub-standard” detention centre at Kahrizak to close before intervening himself.

“He could have acted sooner and he could have treated others, including detainees, more kindly,” Motahari told the semi-official Mehr news agency on Sunday.

“But unfortunately, this did not happen and some detainees, including Mohsen Ruholamini, were treated violently by some people,” he added, alluding to the death in jail of the son of a senior aide to conservative presidential hopeful Mohsen Rezaie.

The political uncertainty has posed fresh challenges for Western powers which had hoped to engage the Islamic Republic in substantive talks on its nuclear programme, which they suspect has military purposes, not only civilian ones as Iran insists.

Another potential source of friction with the United States arose on Saturday when Iran arrested three American hikers who an Iraqi Kurdish official said had strayed across the border.

©Thomson Reuters 2009

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National Post

Iranian police fire tear gas at mourners

Post-Vote Protest; 300 at ceremony for woman shot dead in clash

Parisa Hafezi, Reuters Published: Friday, July 31, 2009

Relatives of a victim of the recent post-election protests in Iran hold his picture as they cry over the grave of Neda Agha-Soltan at Behesht-e Zahra cemetery yesterday. Your View, Reuters

Relatives of a victim of the recent post-election protests in Iran hold his picture as they cry over the grave of Neda Agha-Soltan at Behesht-e Zahra cemetery yesterday.

TEHRAN – Baton-wielding Iranian police fired tear gas yesterday and arrested protestors mourning the young woman killed in post-election violence who has become a symbol for the opposition to Tehran’s hardline leaders.

The renewed protests show the opposition refuses to be quelled or accept the June 12 hardline election victory despite a security crackdown, the arrest of hundreds of demonstrators and repeated calls from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The clashes erupted after hundreds of supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi gathered to mourn Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death on June 20 was captured on video and has been seen by hundreds of thousands on the Internet.

At least 300 mourners were at a ceremony for the 26-year-old music student at Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, greeting the opposition leader with chants of “Mousavi we support you” and clinging to his car as he arrived, a witness said. But police forced Mr. Mousavi to return to his car and leave.

Later, hundreds tried to move toward the Grand Mosala, a large prayer venue in central Tehran. But police were out in force outside the Mosala, having rejected a request by opposition leaders to hold a memorial ceremony there.

“There are thousands of people chanting slogans in favour of Mousavi. Hundreds of riot police around Mosala and nearby streets are trying to disperse them,” another witness said.

Plainclothes security agents and riot police beat protestors with batons and police fired tear gas, witnesses said.

Protestors set garbage containers alight in nearby streets. At least three protesters were arrested and police smashed

the car windows of drivers who honked their horns in support of the demonstrators, one of the witnesses said.

Smaller groups of scores of protesters gathered in parts of Tehran as evening fell, shouting “death to dictators” and “independence, freedom, Iranian republic,” an echo of a slogan from the 1979 revolution with the word “Iranian” replacing the word “Islamic” that was used 30 years ago.

Mr. Mousavi and another reformist candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, say the authorities rigged the June 12 vote to ensure the re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Supreme Leader Khamenei has upheld the result and demanded an end to protests over the election, which tipped Iran into its worst internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution and exposed deep rifts within the establishment.

“I don’t understand the meaning of dispatching police forces and security agents to surround those who want to mourn,” said Mr. Karoubi at the cemetery, where Ms. Soltan’s family was marking the 40th day since her death.

Ms. Soltan was shot as Mr. Mousavi supporters clashed with riot police and Basij militiamen in Tehran. Authorities say the bullet that killed her was not a type used by Iranian security forces and say the incident was staged to blacken their image.

Ms. Soltan’s mother said her daughter was an innocent bystander.

“It was all about being young and feeling passionate about freedom,” her mother told the BBC. “She wasn’t political, she didn’t belong to any party or group…. Every other young Iranian was there and she was one of them.”

Iranian media have reported the deaths of several other protestors. Rights groups say hundreds of people, including senior pro-reform politicians, journalists, activists and lawyers, have been detained since the election.

Reformist former President Mohammad Khatami has denounced the killings and arrests. “Blood has been shed,” he said on Wednesday, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency. “Detainees have faced illegal and un-Islamic behaviour. Those responsible should be punished.”

The authorities have said many have been released but the head of a parliamentary committee said this week that 200 protestors and 50 political figures remained in custody.




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