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Iran sentences three to death over vote unrest

TEHRAN (Reuters) - A court has sentenced three people to death over street unrest that erupted after Iran’s disputed election in June and links to exiled opposition groups, an Iranian news agency reported Saturday.

A supporter of Iran's moderate presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi holds a piece of paper that reads "We write Mousavi, they read Ahmadinejad" during post-election unrest in Tehran June 13, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

ISNA news agency, citing the head of the publication relations office of Tehran provincial court, did not identify those condemned, giving only their initials.

It was the first official statement of death sentences in connection with the presidential poll, which the opposition says was rigged to secure hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election, and the huge opposition protests that followed.

The authorities have rejected vote fraud charges and portrayed the protests as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic Republic.

“The execution sentences were handed down because of involvement in post-election developments and affiliation with the Iran monarchical association and the PMOI,” the official, Zahid Bashiri-Rad, said.

“These sentences are not final and can be appealed in a higher court,” he said.

The People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI) is an exiled opposition organization, seen by both Iran and the United States as a terrorist group.

One of the initials given by ISNA matches that of Mohammad-Reza Ali-Zamani, whom the reformist Mowjcamp website on Thursday said had been sentenced to death.

A semi-official news agency, Mehr, said in August he was accused of fighting against the Islamic establishment and active membership of a “terrorist” royalist association, and other crimes.

Amnesty International has urged Iran to rescind the death sentence against the 37-year-old, saying in a statement on Friday it feared it would “pave the way for more death sentences against those being tried on similar offences.”

Ali-Zamani was among more than 100 opposition supporters, including senior reformist figures, who were accused in a series of mass trials that got under way in August of fomenting post-election street unrest.

Mowjcamp said Ali-Zamani had made “extensive confessions” during his trial. Reformist politicians have condemned the court sessions as “show trials.”

Reformist former President Mohammad Khatami, who backed opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi in the election, has said confessions made at the trials were obtained under “extraordinary conditions” and were invalid.

Analysts see the mass trials as an attempt by the authorities to uproot the moderate opposition.

The June election plunged Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, when the U.S.-backed shah was toppled.

The opposition says more than 70 people were killed in the unrest, more than double the official estimate.

Reporting by Hossein Jaseb and Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Jon Hemming