Iran renews execution threat against protesters
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's interior minister warned opposition activists on Tuesday they risk execution as enemies of God if they continue anti-government demonstrations, and the foreign ministry said arrested foreigners face punishment.
Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar made the latest threat after the Intelligence Ministry said on Monday several foreigners engaged in a "psychological war" against the Islamic Republic were arrested on December 27 in the bloodiest unrest since the aftermath of a disputed June 12 presidential poll.
The opposition says the vote was rigged to secure President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election. The authorities deny the accusations, which they say were part of a Western-orchestrated plot to overthrow the Islamic system.
Eight people were killed in clashes between security forces and supporters of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi on the Shi'ite mourning day of Ashura. More than 40 leading reformists, including four advisers to Mousavi, have since been arrested.
"After Ashura, anyone who takes part in riots will be considered as 'mohareb' (waging war on God) and an opponent of national security," Najjar said, according to the official IRNA news agency.
Despite such warnings, the opposition has shown no inclination to back down and street protests have continued sporadically in the six months since the vote.
Thousands of protesters were arrested after the election. Most have since been released but more than 80 reformists have received jail terms of up to 15 years. Five people have been sentenced to death but none has been executed so far.
Police said more than 300 protesters detained on December 27 were still in jail. The authorities have repeatedly accused opposition leaders of links to "foreign enemies."
The Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday those held included foreigners and Iranians with dual citizenship. It gave no details of their nationalities or identities.
"Among those arrested are several foreigners and dual- national Iranians... The legal procedure in connection with their cases is under way," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a weekly news conference.
"They will be punished if their crime is proved."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced dismay on Monday at the way the authorities have cracked down on pro-reform protests.
Mehmanparast criticized her remarks, saying the West was "siding with a group of troublemakers" in Iran.
"Over the long run, such mistakes will jeopardize their ... countries' interests," he said, without elaborating.
Hardline clerics and lawmakers have urged the judiciary to punish opposition leaders for igniting tension, branding them enemies of God, liable to execution under Islamic law.
"Holding an open trial for the leaders of the sedition will disgrace the leaders of the grand sin in history," Gholamhossein Elham, a close ally to Ahmadinejad, told IRNA on Tuesday.
The authorities have arrested relatives and aides of Mousavi but stopped short of detaining or prosecuting the most prominent political opponents so far.
In a statement last Friday, Mousavi defied calls for his execution, saying his "blood is not redder than that of other martyrs" who have died since the vote.
The unrest that erupted after the June vote is the most serious since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The opposition says more than 70 people were killed, but the authorities have estimated the post-vote death toll at about half that number, including pro-government militiamen.
A judiciary official told the students news agency ISNA that some opposition websites had been blocked for "spreading lies and disturbing public opinion."
"Those who try to endanger the country's cyberspace by publishing false news ... will be also punished," said Abdolsamad Khoramabadi. At least four pro-reform newspapers have been banned and dozens of websites blocked in Iran since June.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by Paul Taylor)
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Protesters respond to calls to defend their demonstration from possible police intervention. Slideshow