By Chip Cummins
January 30, 2010
DUBAI—Iran’s judiciary on Saturday began a trial of 16 defendants charged with various offenses related to protests late last month, according to state media.
The trial is the latest in several proceedings against protesters and alleged organizers of post-election demonstrations. The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accused the defendants of working in concert with foreign powers to bring down the Islamic Republic.
On Saturday, 14 men and two women appeared in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court. Five on trial faced charges of “moharebeh,” or enmity toward God, a charge punishable by death. Other charges included illegal protests, threatening national security and spreading propaganda, according to state-run Press TV. The prosecutor said all of the defendants were working with the U.S. and other foreign powers to affect regime change in Iran, state media reported.
Press TV said that legal proceedings had begun for an additional 37 people detained during the Dec. 27 protests.
Widespread demonstrations across Iran flared after the presidential elections in June, with opposition supporters alleging fraud. Mr. Ahmadinejad won the vote handily, and the regime has said the vote represented the will of the people.
Sporadic protests have continued ever since, including one of the most violent days since the vote—Dec. 27. Official reports put the death toll that day at eight, though opposition activists have said many more died. Protesters alleged that security services fired into crowds, while Iranian police denied any involvement in the deaths.
Hundreds were arrested during the clashes, which fell on Ashura, a holy day for Shiite Muslims. The protests came despite threats by the government of a harsh crackdown. Since June, Mr. Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have walked a fine line. The government has conceded irregularities in the polls and admitted to heavy-handed tactics in treating protesters. In December, prosecutors charged several officials with complicity in the death of at least three detained protesters.
At the same time, the government and many conservative clerical supporters have threatened a tough crackdown on any continuing protests. On Friday, Ahmad Jannati, a senior conservative cleric, lashed out at protesters and urged the government to deal harshly with them.
“If rioters are not dealt with firmly and strongly, the situation will become more serious in the future,” the cleric said at Friday prayers in Tehran, according to state media.
Mr. Jannati urged the death penalty on those found guilty of rioting during the Dec. 27 protests, and cited the hanging of two alleged dissidents earlier in the week. The two had been arrested before the June elections and found guilty of complicity in a bombing in 2008, according to Press TV, though some Iranian media had suggested they were related to the post-election unrest.
Separately, Iranian judiciary officials said Thursday that they were studying the appeals of nine other protesters, who had previously been sentenced to death for alleged plots against the Islamic Republic following the presidential election, Press TV reported.
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