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Iranian Ex-President Khatami Denounces Trial Of Reformists


Prominent former leaders are among the defendants on trial.
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has joined the voices denouncing the trial of around 100 people for their alleged involvement in the post-election violence in Iran.

Khatami had strong words for the trial, at which several of his close allies, including former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi and a number of other prominent reformists, are charged with serious security crimes.

Khatami described the proceeding that began on August 1 as a "show" trial that will further damage the Iranian establishment. Khatami said he hopes the trial will not "lead to ignorance of the real crimes," including the alleged torture and murder of detainees.

The former Iranian president said that the most important problem with the procedure is that it was not held in an open session. He noted that “the lawyers and the defendants were not informed of the contents of the cases ahead of the trial."

Abtahi and some of the other defendants were quoted by state media as telling the court that earlier claims of massive fraud during the June 12 presidential vote were baseless.

Abtahi, who appeared tired and had lost weight, reportedly told the court that the allegations of fraud were used to encourage people to take to the streets. “Fraud was in fact a code word for all the riots and incidents that took place in the country,” he said.

Blog: A Satire On Opposition 'Confessions'
Khatami and a number of other reformists and defendants’ relatives said that the confessions made in court are not valid.

Abtahi’s relatives and friends have said that the words he used in court were clearly not his own. Abtahi is a popular blogger, and his page on the social networking site Facebook has been filled with messages of support and solidarity since his appearance in court on August 1.

Iran’s largest reformist political party, Moshrekat, said the confessions were forced, and added that “even a cooked chicken would laugh” at the charges against those on trial.

Iranian authorities have a long history of forcing political prisoners to make confessions. Many detainees who have confessed have said after their release that their statements were made under intense pressure.

Observers say the trial, which seems to be largely based on such “confessions,” appears to be an attempt by the Iranian authorities to prove that the disputed June vote was “healthy,” as a number of conservative officials including President Mahmud Ahamdinejad have claimed.

Further Condemnation

Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Musavi, considered the leader of the opposition movement, on August 2 also strongly condemned the trial of reformists and others, and said that the defendants’ confessions were made after they were put through "medieval-era torture."

In a statement posted on his website, Musavi said: "The scenes that we saw were a clumsy preparation for the launch of the 10th government.” He said that the court – which he described as “fraudulent” – can be expected to prove that “there was no fraud committed in the election.”

Musavi has called the reelection of Ahmadinejad illegitimate.

Also on August 2, conservative presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai sent a letter to the head of Iran's judiciary demanding the government try the authorities who attacked peaceful protesters and tortured detainees. Rezai, a former commandeer of the Revolutionary Guard, said that justice will not be realized otherwise and it is possible that the unrest will continue.

Despite the growing criticism, Iran’s ISNA news agency reported on August 2 that 10 more individuals went on trial on the same charges as the other 100 or so defendants.

Their trial was held behind closed doors.

Crackdown Continues

The trial could be also an effort to end the protests over Ahmadinejad’s reelection that have been continuing in Iran in recent weeks.

Saeed Razavi Faghih, a lawyer and journalist who campaigned for reformist presidential candidate Mehdi Karrubi, told Radio Farda that the trial is the latest move by the hardliners to intensify the post-election crackdown and silence the opposition movement.

“The trial and also the extensive post-election arrests are [the means] for settling the issues with the critical faction,” Faghih said. “I think that the conservatives have been waiting for an opportunity for [many years] to settle scores with some of their rivals who were in power and are not anymore.”

Former Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani and others have speculated that the main target of the trial is influential former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has said that many Iranians have lost faith in the Islamic establishment as the result of the June 12 vote.

Abtahi on August 1 told the court that Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Musavi had “promised to always back each other up.” He was also quoted as saying that Rafsanjani was trying take revenge on Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

In a statement issued several hours after the trial began, Rafsanjani criticized the trial and said it was not clear under what circumstances Abtahi's comments were made.

The statement said that the former president did not back any of the presidential election candidates and did not have any role in the post-election events.

The trial marks the first time in the Islamic Republic that dozens of former officials -- including former vice presidents, ministers, and lawmakers -- are facing charges ranging from acting against national security by planning unrest to attacking military and state buildings and conspiring against the ruling system.

Among those on trial are former Industries Minister Behzad Nabavi, former Deputy Interior Minister Mostafa Tajzadeh, and Mohsen Mirdamadi, the leader of the biggest reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front (Mosharekat).

The trial has provoked shock and anger among members of the opposition movement.

On August 2, relatives of the detainees gathered in front of Iran's judiciary building and demanded to meet their loved ones.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.