An official from Iran's Justice Ministry has said that three people arrested in the country's postelection crackdown have been sentenced to death.
The death sentences have raised concern over the fate of scores of reformists, intellectuals, and activists arrested and put on trial following the street protests against the reelection of Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in June.
The head of public relations of Iran's Justice Ministry, Zahed Bashiri Rad, made the announcement October 10 interview with Iran's Student News agency (ISNA).
Observers say the death sentences appear to be part of efforts by the Iranian authorities to create fear and to silence the opposition movement that continues to challenge Ahmadinejad's reelection. Many Iranians believe that he won as a result of massive fraud.
Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former reformist legislator who is currently doing research work in the United States, told RFE/RL that the death sentences could signal more heavy sentences to come for those arrested over the protests.
"It's even possible that they would arrest the leaders of the opposition movement," Haghighatjoo said.
The death sentences for the three accused are the first to be announced. ISNA reported that 18 other protesters have also been sentenced, without giving more details.
The three sentenced to death were convicted of having ties with two exiled groups seeking to overthrow the Islamic establishment. Spokesman Rad identified the three only by their initials: M.Z., A.P., and N.A., and said that they can still appeal.
He said two of the accused, M.Z. and A.P., were convicted of having ties with the monarchist group, the Kingdom Assembly of Iran. The third accused, N.A., is said to be a member of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), which is regarded by Iran as a terrorist organization.
An opposition website reported on October 8 that Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani, a member of the Kingdom Assembly of Iran, has been sentenced to be hanged. A report linked him to a 2008 bombing in Shiraz.
It is not clear whether Zamani is one of the three accused mentioned by Rad.
Zamani's death sentence has led to international concern and condemnation.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International said it fears that the death sentence for 37-year-old Zamani will pave the way for more death sentences against those being tried on similar offences. Amnesty called on Iran to rescind the death sentence, which it said followed a trial that was a mockery of justice.
State-run Press TV quoted a diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying that Zamani was convicted for being a member of a terrorist group, as well as spying for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
More than 2,000 people were arrested following the June 12 presidential vote. Many were released but scores remain behind bars.
In recent months Iran has put over 100 key reformist figures, journalists, and protesters on trial. A number of them have been reportedly tortured and forced to make false confessions.
The trials have been condemned by rights groups and reformists as show trials aimed at legitimizing President Ahmadinejad.
The death sentences over the postelection unrest were announced on the World Day Against the Death Penalty. Iran has one of the highest rates of executions in the world.