Iran’s rulers put 30 people on trial for opposition ‘conspiracy’

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Iran’s hardline rulers will seek to distract attention from their own internal ructions today by putting 30 people arrested in the turbulent aftermath of the presidential election on trial for offences against the State.

The defendants have yet to be named or given access to lawyers, and the court has yet to be announced, but the IRNA state news agency says that they will face charges of threatening national security, having links to terrorist groups and sabotage.

The prosecution is being orchestrated by Saeed Mortazavi, Tehran’s notoriously hardline prosecutor-general, who has been tipped as the new justice minister. Observers say that the penalties could range from a short imprisonment to death.

“These are going to be kangaroo courts — show trials,” one analyst in Tehran said. “They’re trying to turn attention away from their own troubles.”

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In a televised speech yesterday President Ahmadinejad denied any breach between himself and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, saying that their relationship was “like that of a father and son”. He was speaking after a week in which conservatives had condemned him for defying Ayatollah Khamenei over his choice of a deputy. The regime has also been denounced by both moderates and hardliners for the abuse, torture and deaths of detainees arrested in the post-election violence. On Thursday thousands of demonstrators again took to the streets of Tehran.

IRNA set the tone for today’s trials with a report that purported to explain how the massive opposition demonstrations were organised.

It claimed that there was a “control” room that identified targets and guided thugs, and that activists were divided into stone throwers, weapon carriers and slogan chanters. It said that the opposition set up safe houses, and used BBC Persian and Voice of America to broadcast its messages.

It even claimed that women’s hairdressing salons were used as storage and distribution depots for guns, knives and acid, and that the opposition poured oil on roads so that security forces would slip when chasing demonstrators.

Announcing the trials, IRNA said that some of the defendants had links to the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, a militant group of Iranian exiles who want to overthrow the Islamic Republic, and to the members of the Baha’i faith, a regular target of the regime.

Other specific charges against the defendants included planting bombs, carrying weapons and grenades, attacking the police and Basij militiamen, destroying public property and sending images to the “enemy media”.

“The rhetoric seems hell-bent on proving guilt and punishing them,” the analyst said. “The point is to put the blame back on the opposition, but the opposition is adamant the accusations are false.”

Today’s defendants are expected to be lower-level detainees, with around 50 political prisoners — the alleged masterminds of the “conspiracy” — expected to stand trial later.

It is unclear whether the proceedings will be held in a normal court or the revolutionary court that normally deals with cases involving national security. Nor is it clear whether they will be open to the public or televised. Manouchehr Mottaki, the Foreign Minister, fanned the flames yesterday with a fresh attack on Britain and the West.

“Western and European countries, with their overt and covert capabilities, interfered in Iran’s election … the worst among them being Britain,” he said. “The countries who interfered through their television networks by telling how to instigate riots, build explosives and other tension-creating activities are accomplices in all the committed crimes, murders and are held responsible.» Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the powerful Guardian Council, blamed Mir Hossein Mousavi and other opposition leaders for the violence. “Apologise to them [the protesters] and tell them that we started a mutiny but you were killed,” he said at Friday prayers in Tehran.

He said that the elections were the healthiest since the 1979 revolution.

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