Wednesday, 18 November 2009

AP: Iran sentences 5 to death in postelection turmoil


TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has sentenced five defendants to death in a mass trial of opposition figures accused of fomenting the unrest that followed the disputed June presidential election, state television reported Tuesday.

The five apparently include three death sentences announced last month. None of the five have been identified by Iranian authorities.

Iran began the mass trial in August of more than 100 prominent opposition figures and activists, accusing them of a range of charges from rioting to spying and plotting what Iran's clerical rulers have depicted as a foreign-backed plot to oust them from power.

In the weeks following the June 12 election, the opposition led massive street protests that drew hundreds of thousands and supporters clashed with security forces. They claimed fraud after election authorities declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner of a second term and their anger unleashed the most serious internal unrest in Iran in the 30 years since the Islamic Revolution.

A harsh crackdown ended the demonstrations and a security sweep went far beyond rounding up just protesters on the streets, snatching up rights activists and journalists, as well as pro-reform politicians. Rights groups and opposition figures in Iran have criticized the court proceedings, calling them a "show trial" and saying confessions are coerced.

The opposition says 69 people were killed in the crackdown, while the government has confirmed about 30 dead.

A Justice Department statement said the five sentenced to death were members of "terrorist and armed opposition groups," state television reported.

The statement said courts have sentenced a total of 89 defendants since the process began and 81 of them got prison terms ranging from six months up to 15 years. Three others were acquitted. "So far, 89 of defendants were tried and based on their cases, death sentences were issued for five of them," the statement said.

It said the 81 sentenced to prison terms were charged with a range of offenses from security violations, agitating against the Islamic Republic, violating law and order, damaging public and private property, and assaulting civilians and security forces.

Despite the crackdown, the government has stopped short of indicting the most visible opposition leaders, presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, but there have been signs in recent weeks that could change. The opposition says Mousavi is the rightful winner of the election.

Three defendants were sentenced to death last month. Two were convicted of membership in a monarchist group seeking to topple the Islamic Republic and restore a monarchy. The third was convicted of ties to a terrorist group for his alleged links to the People's Mujahedeen, an armed opposition group.
Amnesty International identified one of them as Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani, 37.

It said he was convicted of charges including leaving the country illegally to meet with U.S. military officials in Iraq. Amnesty said it was concerned the ruling against Zamani could open the way for more death sentences for those accused of similar crimes, and the rights group appealed to the authorities to rescind the ruling.

Zamani testified in August that he met with a U.S. intelligence agent called "Frank" in Irbil, the capital of Iraq's self-governing Kurdish region, and received money and a phone from him in return for information on the Iranian government and student movements, according to state media reports at the time.

Also last month, Iran ignored appeals by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and rock star Sting and sentenced an Iranian-American academic Kian Tajbakhsh to 12 years in prison for his alleged role in the anti-government protests. He was the only American detained in the crackdown.

At the same time, Iran allowed another defendant to leave the country — Canadian-Iranian Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek journalist arrested in the same crackdown.

Another defendant is a young French academic, Clotilde Reiss, charged with spying. The 24-year-old was questioned before a judge Tuesday but then allowed to return to the French Embassy, rather than prison, a French official said.
In August, Reiss was handed over to the embassy after paying bail but was barred from leaving Iran. A week ago, Iran refused to provide assurances that she would not be returned to Evin prison, where she spent a month-and-a-half following her arrest. France's foreign minister wanted the Iranians to guarantee she would be released after the hearing to the French Embassy.
Last week, Tehran's top prosecutor said the brother-in-law of Iran's top opposition leader Mousavi will be put on trial, months after his arrest over the unrest.

In a separate case, Iran is also holding three Americans — Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, who were detained in July after straying across the border from Iraq. Their families and the U.S. government says they are innocent hikers who accidentally crossed the border.

Iran recently accused them of spying, signaling Tehran intends to put them on

(This version CORRECTS Corrects in graf 2 that 5 sentenced to death appear to include three announced last month; ADDS quotes, background, byline, details.)

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