Iran tries more moderates, embassy staff

Iran put dozens of moderates and a French citizen on trial on Saturday for taking part in unrest after a disputed June presidential vote, and riot police used force to break up protests by relatives outside the courtroom.

State television said an Iranian staffer from the British embassy in Tehran also was standing trial, a move the British Foreign Office in London said was “completely unacceptable”.

“Relatives of the defendants and a large group of people gathered in front of the court building on Saturday. When they chanted ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is greatest], the riot police attacked them to disperse the crowd,” the reformist Mosharekat website said.

The court cases marked the second round of a mass trial of moderates aimed at uprooting the opposition and ending street protests that erupted after the June 12 election which officials say was the “healthiest” vote since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

“The charges include trying to weaken the position of Velayat-e Faqih [religious jurisprudence] in Iran [and] ... challenging the system’s legitimacy,” the mass indictment said, according to state television.

The defendants are also charged with “attempting to carry out a velvet revolution ...
[and] having close contacts with foreign embassies and media,” it said.

Leading moderates say the election was rigged in favour of hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the resulting dispute has plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis in 30 years.

At least 26 people were killed and hundreds arrested in the unrest.

Among those on trial are a 24-year-old French language teaching assistant, an Iranian-French local woman employed at the French embassy and an Iranian working for the British embassy.

Also on trial were prominent journalist Ahmad Zeydabadi and leading moderate politicians Ali Tajernia and Hedayat Agha’ie.

“A French woman accused of collecting information and provoking rioters and also a local female French embassy staffer are being tried today,” the television said.

French citizen Clotilde Reiss, held in Tehran’s Evin Prison, was arrested at a Tehran airport on July 1 on charges of espionage as she tried to leave Iran after spending five months in the central city of Isfahan.

Television showed Reiss, wearing a black Islamic outfit and headscarf, sitting in the front row in the courtroom. It was not clear whether she had a translator when the indictment was read.

France has rejected the charge against Reiss as “baseless” and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for her immediate release.

The French Foreign Ministry said on Saturday it had no comment on Reiss for now. It said the local embassy staff member, only identified as Afshar, was detained in mid-July.

Hossein Rassam, an Iranian employed at the British Embassy who was released on bail in July, was shown on television sitting among other defendants in a courtroom.

“This is completely unacceptable and directly contradicts assurances we have repeatedly been given by senior Iranian officials,” said a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office.

“We deplore these trials and the so-called confessions of prisoners who have been denied their basic human rights,” she added.

Western vote meddling
Espionage and acting against national security are punishable by death under Iran’s Islamic law.

At a mass trial last Saturday more than 100 reformists, including several prominent figures, were charged with offences that included acting against national security by fomenting post-election unrest.

Leading moderates, including defeated candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, have defied Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has formally endorsed Ahmadinejad.

They say the new government Ahmadinejad will appoint will be illegitimate.

Pro-reform politicians have denounced the court cases as “show trials”, saying the confessions were made under duress.

Iran accuses the West, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting trouble after the June election in an attempt to topple the clerical establishment. They deny the charge.

The latest indictment accused Washington and London of “providing financial help to Iran’s opposition” to fuel domestic turmoil.

“Defendant Reza Rafi’i Foroushani had contacts with American intelligence agents in Dubai ... Some European ambassadors and diplomats also attended illegal [pro-Mousavi] rallies,” it said.

Ahmadinejad was sworn in as Iran’s president on Wednesday in a ceremony boycotted by reformist leaders and parliamentarians.

United States President Barack Obama and the leaders of France, Britain, Italy and Germany have all decided not to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his re-election. Ahmadinejad reacted angrily, saying: “no one in Iran is waiting for your messages”. - Reuters

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