TEHRAN (Reuters) - Five people detained during violent anti-government demonstrations in Iran last month went on trial on Monday on charges that may be punishable by the death penalty, official media reported.
It was the first trial held over unrest on Ashura, the day of ritual Shi’ite mourning that fell on December 27, and it was a further sign of the authorities’ determination to put an end to protests that rocked Iran after last year’s disputed election.
Eight people were killed in clashes between security forces and supporters of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi on Ashura, in the most serious violence in the Islamic Republic since the aftermath of the presidential poll in June.
After the vote “the protests turned to an anti-revolutionary movement with the aim of toppling the system,” chief Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told state television, referring to the case against the accused.
The holding of a swift trial of some of those arrested last month may in part be intended as a warning to the pro-reform opposition not to stage any similar rallies on February 11, when Iran marks the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Opposition backers have seized on occasions marked in the Islamic revolutionary calendar to revive their protests, defying arrests and crackdowns by the hard-line leadership.
The election, which reformist leaders said was rigged in favor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, touched off the worst internal crisis in the Islamic Republic’s three-decade history. The government denied any fraud in the voting.
Thousands of people, including senior reformers, were detained after the poll for fomenting unrest. Most of them have since been freed, but more than 80 people have been jailed for up to 15 years and five have been sentenced to death.
“SIMPLY A SPECTATOR”
The authorities have portrayed the post-election protests as a foreign-backed attempt to undermine Iran.
The five people in the dock on Monday were not identified, but the official news agency IRNA said they were members of the armed People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI), an exile group opposed to the Islamic system of government.
They were accused of “moharebeh” -- an Islamic term meaning waging war against God -- which carries the death sentence.
“One of the punishments of moharebeh is execution and it will have to be determined by the presiding judge,” Dolatabadi told IRNA, adding the charges included setting fire to public property and other anti-government activities.
Footage from the trial aired on state television suggested that at least one of the accused was a woman, dressed in the head-to-toe chador as she stood up in the courtroom to respond to the charges, with her back toward the camera.
The semi-official Fars News Agency said one defendant was a drug addict who admitted to providing pictures of post-election “riots” to the PMOI and to visiting a brother at its camp in Iraq, but denied participating in the Ashura day protests.
“I was simply a spectator and did not shout any slogans against the Islamic establishment and the nation’s values,” the accused told the court, Fars reported.
Another defendant spoke of family ties with a PMOI agent and confessed to taking part in anti-government rallies, Fars said.
“My actions were because of ignorance and I didn’t have any intention to overthrow the establishment. So I ask for forgiveness,” this person was quoted as saying.
The opposition website Rahesabz said earlier this month more than 180 people, including 17 journalists, 10 Mousavi aides and some members of the outlawed Baha’i faith were arrested after the Ashura protests.
Hard-line clerics and officials have called on the judiciary to punish opposition leaders for creating tension in Iran, saying they were “mohareb” (enemies of God).
Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari; Editing by Angus MacSwan
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