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Iran's leader says Western agents not to blame, after all

Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's most powerful man, says he's not convinced by show trials that June election protesters are tools of foreign powers.

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The ayatollah's dramatic shift appears to be a reaction to the growing anger in Iran over allegations that torture and rape have been used to extract false, televised confessions from a number of Iranians. There have been signs of discontent within Iran's conservative camp over the harsh crackdown on political opponents for weeks.

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The Tehran Times reported Wednesday that six senior lawmakers looking into allegations of the rape of detainees met with Mehdi Karroubi, the reformist cleric who originally made the allegations. Mr. Karroubi says four detainees raped by security officials are willing to testify to their ordeal, but need guarantees of their safety.

What all this means for the Iranians whose televised show trials are ongoing– among them is the apolitical Kian Tajbakhsh, a US citizen and academic who was living and working in Tehran as a consultant to the government and NGOs when he was arrested two months ago – is unclear.

Allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have continued to press claims of treason and efforts to destroy the Islamic republic in recent weeks, and Khamenei does not appear to be making decisive moves to shut the trials down.

This week, Dr. Tajbakhsh was charged in court with seeking to foment violence and he "confessed" that post election unrest, in which millions of Iranians poured into the streets alleging massive vote fraud, was organized by foreign countries. "The root cause of the riots are found outside the borders," he said, according to the Iranian state news agency, though he hastened  to add, "Since I've had no contacts with any headquarters inside or outside the country, I have no evidence to prove foreign interference."

Friends and family of Tajbakhsh described the charges against him as "ludicrous," said his comments were "made under duress" and that he "is not a member of the Iranian reformist movement and has had no involvement whatsoever in pre- or post-election unrest."

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelley concurred: "Mr. Tajbakhsh poses absolutely no threat to the Iranian government or to its national security. He played absolutely no role in the election, and he's a scholar. He's really devoted his life to promoting understanding between the Iranian and the American people and he's scrupulously stayed politically-neutral."

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