x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Iranian 'show trial' condemned

A trial in which British and French embassy staff stand accused of being part of a Western plot to overthrow the government is seen as an effort to portray widespread unrest as a result of foreign agitation.

In an effort to portray popular unrest as the product of foreign agitation, Iranian authorities have staged a second mass trial in which British and French embassy staff, along with a French national, stand accused of participating in a Western plot to overthrow the government. "Iran's hardline regime sharply escalated the post-election confrontation on August 8 by putting two foreign embassy staffers and a French teacher on trial alongside dozens of political dissidents. The stepped-up campaign to characterise the widespread unrest since the June 12 presidential election as a foreign-led attempted 'soft overthrow' appears to be an effort by the ruling faction to rally the increasingly-splintered conservative base against a popular - and old - enemy: the West," Time magazine reported. "Following on the heels of an unprecedented mass trial of 100 opposition figures a week ago, Saturday's session at Tehran's Revolutionary Court focused on the British Embassy's chief political analyst, Hossein Rassam, a local staff member of the French Embassy, Nazak Ashfar, and a 24-year-old French teacher, Clotilde Reisse, who was working and studying in Isfahan, according to IRNA, Iran's official news agency. In a vague and rambling indictment, the three were charged with espionage and 'acting against the national security,' and blamed for inciting 'riots'. It went on to blame a litany of Western intelligence agencies, media organisations, and software companies - including Israel's Mossad spy agency, Facebook, Twitter, Voice of America, BBC Persia, and even Google's new Persian-to-English translation software - for their roles in the supposed vast conspiracy." The Times said: "Rassam, a political analyst with the embassy, said a budget of £300,000 had been allocated by the embassy to establish contacts with political groups, individuals and activists. "He said he had personally made contact before the election with the campaign headquarters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the pro-reform candidate who claims he was robbed of victory by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. " 'My main responsibility was to gather information from Tehran and other cities by setting up contacts with individuals and other influential parties and political groups and send reports to London,' he said." The New York Times reported: "Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband, said that the charges against Mr Rassam were unjustified, and that the action against Mr Rassam and Ms Reiss 'only brings further discredit on the Iranian regime.' "The French government demanded that Iran immediately release Ms Reiss and its embassy staff member, Nazak Afshar, saying espionage accusations against them were baseless. " 'France renews its demand for the immediate liberation of the young academic, since the accusations against her are baseless,' France's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. It also demanded that Ms Afshar be freed and protested against the conditions of the women's court appearance." RFE/RL said: "Riot police were dispatched after the start of the proceedings to forcibly disperse relatives of the defendants, who had gathered outside the court building and were chanting 'God is great!' according to a report on the Mosharekat website that was cited by Reuters. "At least some of the families appear not to have been informed that their loved ones would be appearing in court, or even of the charges they are facing. "Iran's reformist and moderate politicians, including presidential candidate Mir Hossein Musavi and former President Mohammad Khatami, have denounced the mass trials as a 'ridiculous show'. "Several prominent reformists appeared in the courtroom on August 8, including: Ali Tajernia, a former reformist parliamentarian; Shahaboddin Tabatabaei, a leader of the reformist political party Islamic Participation Front; and Ahmad Zeidabadi, an independent journalist, appeared in the dock. "Zeidabadi's wife, Mahdieh Mohammadi, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that she has not been allowed to visit her husband in prison nor has she been told what charges he faces." The Associated Press reported: "Iraq has appealed to Iran for information about the detention of three Americans who crossed the border while hiking in the Kurdish north, the foreign minister said Saturday. "The request came as the three entered their second week in captivity facing the possibility of an investigation on spying charges despite the insistence of US and Kurdish authorities that they accidentally went astray. "Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said he raised the issue Thursday during a meeting with Iran's ambassador to Iraq. " 'He did confirm that they have been arrested for entering the country without proper visas and they are now being interviewed to determine more details,' Zebari told the Associated Press in a telephone interview." Agence France-Presse reported: "Human rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Friday it had recorded an 'alarming spike' in the number of executions in Iran since the disputed presidential election in June. " 'In just over 50 days, we recorded no less that 115 executions, that is an average of more than two each day,' Amnesty secretary general Irene Khan said in a statement. " 'This represents a significant increase, even compared to the appallingly high rate of executions that has been so long a feature of the human rights scene in Iran.' "The statement said between January 1 and the election on June 12, Amnesty recorded at least 196 executions, placing Iran second worldwide after China in the number of executions carried out. " 'The 115 executions known to have been carried out since the presidential election on 12 June included 14 executions on 2 July, 20 on 4 July, 13 on 14 July and a further 24 executions on 5 August, the day of the inauguration,' it said." Meanwhile, even as Iran is in the throes of continuing political turmoil, it's nuclear programme remains the focus of international concern as the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency becomes increasingly difficult. "The IAEA said in June that the Natanz plant was swiftly outgrowing inspectors' ability to monitor it effectively - namely, to verify no deviations from civilian enrichment," Reuters reported. "Some 5,000 centrifuge machines were enriching uranium at that time with, 2,400 more being set up on the same underground production floor. The next batch may well be refining nuclear fuel full time by the next IAEA report in late August, with a similar number on line for installation. " 'This plant is both under construction and operating at the same time - that's a very uncommon situation for monitors,' said a UN official who asked for anonymity. " 'That's why the IAEA has to adjust to keep a full picture of the uranium feed and tail points, adjusting and adding cameras.' "To 'weaponise' enrichment, Iran would have to recalibrate its centrifuges to produce high-enriched uranium, convert the HEU into a metal and miniaturize it to pack into a warhead. "It is highly unlikely Iran would go down that road at Natanz as the IAEA would almost certainly notice and sound the alarm. "But UN inspectors have no right to roam beyond Iran's declared civilian nuclear sites. That leaves them unable to verify Iran has no parallel military nuclear enterprise somewhere in the vast, security-gripped country. "There is no hard evidence of one. But Iran has stonewalled an IAEA inquiry into Western intelligence suggesting it combined uranium processing with high-altitude explosives tests and work to modify a missile cone for a nuclear warhead." Reporting on a recent assessment made by the US government, The Washington Post said: "Despite Iran's progress since 2007 toward producing enriched uranium, the state department's intelligence analysts continue to think that Tehran will not be able to produce weapons-grade material before 2013, according to a newly disclosed congressional document. "The updated assessment, by the state department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, emphasises that the analysis is based on Iran's technical capability and is not a judgment about 'when Iran might make any political decision' to produce highly enriched uranium. "The intelligence community agrees that a political decision has not yet been made. According to the assessment, state department analysts think such a decision is unlikely to be made 'for at least as long as international scrutiny and pressure persist.' "The views on Iran's nuclear programme are contained among answers in a document supplied by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C Blair to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence after a hearing in February."

pwoodward@thenational.ae