TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s supreme leader said on Wednesday he did not believe the leaders of opposition protests that erupted after the country’s June presidential vote were agents of foreigners.
Iranian officials have previously portrayed the protests as a foreign-backed bid to topple the clerical establishment. They have accused Western powers, particularly the United States and Britain of fomenting the unrest, a charge denied by Washington and London.
“I do not accuse the leaders of recent events as being the agents of foreigners, including America and Britain because it has not been proven to me,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying by state television.
“But there is no doubt that this movement, whether its leaders know or not, was planned in advance,” Khamenei said in a meeting with university students.
Some hardliners have repeatedly called for the arrest of opposition leaders who say the vote was rigged to secure the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Former President Mohammad Khatami said trial confessions by moderates accused of fomenting the post-election unrest were made under “extraordinary conditions” and were invalid, an Iranian news agency reported.
At Tuesday’s trial, the fourth since the June polls, senior reformer and Khatami ally Saeed Hajjarian was reported as saying he had “made major mistakes during the election by presenting incorrect analyses.”
“I apologize to the Iranian nation for those mistakes.”
A prosecutor demanded maximum punishment for Hajjarian who is accused of acting against national security, a crime which can carry the death sentence.
“These confessions are invalid and have been obtained under extraordinary conditions ... such claims are sheer lies and false,” Khatami, who backed the main moderate candidate in the election, was quoted as saying by the ILNA news agency.
Also in the dock on Tuesday were several other moderate figures, including former Deputy Interior Minister Mostafa Tajzadeh and former Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh — both of whom held their positions under Khatami.
All were charged with fomenting huge street protests that followed the June presidential election that returned hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Some confessed to “mistakes.”
Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh was also accused of acting against national security and espionage at Tuesday’s trial, charges likely to anger Washington.
Tajbakhsh told the court that Khatami had met billionaire financier George Soros in New York, Iranian media reported, but Khatami said this was also a “lie.”
The June 12 vote has plunged Iran into its most serious internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution and has exposed deep divisions in the establishment’s ruling elite.
Analysts see the mass trials as an attempt to uproot the moderate opposition and put an end to opposition protests.
Rights groups say hundreds of people, including senior pro-reform politicians, journalists and activists, have been detained since the election. Many are still in jail.
Moderate politicians and influential former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a rival of Ahmadinejad, have called for the detainees’ immediate release.
One of those in the dock in Tuesday’s trial accused Rafsanjani’s son of encouraging moderates to allege that the poll was rigged. Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani denied the claims.
In a televised debate before the election, Ahmadinejad accused Rafsanjani’s family of corruption. The official IRNA news agency said on Wednesday Rafsanjani’s family had issued a complaint to the judiciary against Ahmadinejad, but it did not give details.
Mehdi Karoubi, one of the defeated candidates, has also angered hardliners by claiming some imprisoned protesters were raped and abused in jail, a charge government officials have rejected as “baseless.”
But a parliamentary committee set up to investigate the cases of detainees said it would be ready to consider any evidence submitted by the pro-reform cleric.
Karoubi was quoted as saying this week that four people who say they were sexually abused in jail were ready to provide testimony to parliament, but that they did not feel secure.
Committee member Farhad Tajari said the judiciary chief and the speaker of parliament had “given the necessary security guarantees to those who are ready to testify about sexual abuse in prison” but that he did not see the claims as reliable.
The reformist website Norooz said last week “tens” of people were buried in unnamed graves in the largest cemetery in Tehran on July 12 and 15 — about a month after the election, suggesting those buried had been protestors.
But a former head of the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery said no “mass burial” had ever taken place there. A politician said on Tuesday a parliamentary committee was looking into a rumor of burials at the site.
The losing candidates say 69 people were killed in the unrest but the authorities put the death toll at 26.