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Iran began a mass trial of more than 100 opposition protesters who'd taken part in demonstrations following the disputed presidential election last month. On Saturday, the court charged the defendants with conspiring with foreign powers to create a revolution using terrorism, subversion, and a media campaign to delegititimize election results. Those on trial include former Iranian vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a Newsweek reporter, and prominent opposition leaders.
The trial comes only days before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will take the oath of office for his second term, and it appears to be a calculated move by the government to discourage further antigovernment protests.
Mosharekat, an opposition party, called the trial "laughable" and said that "even a cooked chicken would laugh at the charges," reports the Times of London. Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has called the proceedings a "show trial" that could weaken confidence in Iran's Islamic system, reports the BBC.
"What was done yesterday is against the constitution, regular laws and rights of the citizens," Mr. Khatami's office quoted him as saying. "The most important problem with the trial procedure is that it was not held in an open session. The lawyers and the defendants were not informed of the contents of the cases ahead of the trial."
The semiofficial Fars News Agency has been the only media outlet allowed inside the courtroom to cover the event. The agency, which has links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, reports that some of those on trial confessed to having ties with the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), which Iran considers terrorist organization and has the stated goal of overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In a statement released by the court, Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari is quoted as saying that the Western media began reporting about voter fraud before the election, helping to incite allegations that the election was rigged and the violent backlash that followed after the results were announced, reports the Tehran Times.
Bahari said illegal rallies were held that were similar to velvet revolutions in other countries with the goal of seizing control of important government institutions. The Newsweek journalist added that rallies in front of the Interior Ministry, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) headquarters, and the parliament were all planned with this purpose.
However, even one Iranian cleric has questioned the veracity of the confessions. Iran's Press TV reports that Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani issued an official statement challenging the legitimacy of the confessions, saying, "It is unclear ... under which conditions and considerations these confessions have been made."
Opposition groups contend that many confessions from the defendants likely came under duress. The wife of Mr. Abtahi, the former vice president, says he has lost nearly 40 pounds during his 43 days in prison, reports the Guardian.
"If you look at Abtahi's physical condition ... it is clear he has been tortured and mistreated," said one friend [of Abtahi]. "I have known Abtahi for a long time, I know how he uses words and puts them together in a sentence; these are not his words I've read today."