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Iran Frees Leading Reformer On $700,000 Bail


Top Iranian reformist Mohammad Ali Abtahi
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- A reformist former vice president accused of fomenting street unrest after Iran's June election was released on bail of about $700,000 today, the judiciary said, after reports he had been sentenced to six years in jail.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi as saying Mohammad Ali Abtahi was freed "temporarily." Under Iranian law, people sentenced to jail can post bail and be out of prison while they are appealing.

Abtahi "was temporarily released after the completion of the trial, issuing of the verdict and collection of bail amounting to 7 billion rials (about $700,000)," Jafari Dolatabadi said.

IRNA did not give details of the verdict but some Iranian newspapers and the pro-reform "Kaleme" website earlier said a court had jailed Abtahi for six years. Kaleme said his lawyer would seek his release on bail.

Abtahi, one of dozens of leading moderates detained after the disputed election on charges of trying to topple the clerical establishment by orchestrating protests, would be the most senior reformer to be jailed so far after the election.

Abtahi, a cleric who was vice president for parliament and legal affairs during Mohammad Khatami's 1997-2005 presidency, was officially informed about his sentence on November 21, "Jahan-e Eqtesad" daily said. Other newspapers also carried the report.

They cited his daughter Fatemeh Abtahi as saying security agents searched Abtahi's Tehran home in his presence, after which he was taken to a court where he was told about the verdict and then returned to jail.

Iran's judiciary said last week that five people had been sentenced to death and 81 had received jail terms of up to 15 years in connection with protests and violence after the vote. It did not give names. The sentences can be appealed.

'Big Lie'

The moderate opposition says the poll was rigged to secure the reelection of hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. The authorities reject the charge and have portrayed huge opposition protests that erupted after the election as foreign-backed.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who endorsed Ahmadinejad's election victory, has said it is a crime to question the vote.

The UN General Assembly's human rights committee last week condemned Iran for its crackdown on opposition protesters. Tehran's UN ambassador sharply criticized the resolution.

Abtahi was a top adviser to pro-reform cleric Mehdi Karrubi, who finished fourth in the June 12 election.

Thousands of people were detained after the presidential election, which plunged Iran into its most serious internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and exposed widening establishment divisions.

Most have since been released, but more than 100 remain in jail on charges of stoking postvote unrest. The opposition has denounced what it calls "show trials" held against leading reformers, including also two former deputy ministers.

During a mass trial in August, a semi-official news agency said Abtahi had admitted that the allegations of election fraud had only been a pretext designed to trigger mass protests.

On November 21, the head of a hard-line political party, Mohammad Nabi Habibi, called for opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi to face trial for spreading the "big lie" of vote fraud.

Any legal action against Musavi, who came second in the election and has vowed to press on with his drive for political reform in Iran, may trigger new street protests by his backers.

Other hard-liners have also called for legal action against Musavi, a moderate former prime minister, who was quoted by "Kaleme" today as saying the government should stop intimidating people to try and change their political views.