x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Iran puts election protesters on trial

Pressure mounts on Tehran to free prisoners held during post poll unrest as about 100 people accused of rioting go on trial.

At least 100 people accused of rioting in the aftermath of Iran's disputed presidential election have gone on trial today, even as pressure grows on Tehran to release hundreds of others who have been detained in the weeks since June 12.

The detainees appeared at a revolutionary court in the capital, according to the state-run Fars news agency. Among those in the dock were Mohsen Aminzadeh and Mohsen Safai-Farahani, deputy ministers under the government of ex-president Mohammad Khatami, and Mohsen Mirdamadi, current head of the Islamic Iran Participation Front. Also on trial were prominent reformists Behzad Nabavi of the Islamic Republic Mujahedeen Organisation, Mohammad Atrianfar of the Executives of Construction, and Mohammad Ali Abtahi, from the Assembly of Combatant Clerics. All strongly supported opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who have refused to acknowledge Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory and demanded a rerun of the June poll. Iranian media said the accused are charged with having "participated in riots, acting against national security, disturbing public order, vandalising public and government property and having ties with counter-revolutionary groups". Earlier, Iranian officials said 20 "rioters" would face trial from today. Several were accused of having connections with mohareb (enemies of God) groups, it said, an apparent reference to western countries which Iran accuses of spearheading the protests.

There has been growing international concern at the tactics used by Iran's police and militia to suppress a wave of unrest following the announcement that Mr Ahmadinejad won an election most in Iran say was rigged. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said on Wednesday that it was "imperative" for Iran to release political prisoners, adding that their detention showed "the political situation inside of Iran has not yet resolved itself".

Most of them have been released, but around 250 remain behind bars, officials say. Some of those released have revealed details of beatings and inhumane treatment. Many were held in hastily set-up holding areas including inside industrial containers, storerooms and a former Revolutionary Guards arms factory. A recent detainee, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, told The Washington Times that security forces "herded us blindfolded into what I thought was a stadium, where they beat us solidly for three days and threatened to execute us. They said to us that since we haven't been registered officially, we don't exist so they could execute us."

Female prisoners emerging from Tehran's jails have complained that male guards beat them, pulled their hair and were in constant physical proximity with them despite Islamic laws that dictate prisoners be separated by sex and dealt with by same-sex guards, according to the Times. Other prisoners have reported being held in police stations and being forced to lick toilet bowls, according to an unverified report published by an Iranian reformist news site called Mauj-e Sabz-e Azadi.

The Iranian government released 140 people on Tuesday and the prominent Iranian reformist, Saeed Hajjarian, was freed on Wednesday, the Fars News Agency reported. Mr Hajjarian, 55, is considered the theoretician behind Iran's reformist movement. He was extremely influential until an assassination attempt in 2000 left him severely disabled. He was shot in the head, and suffered brain and spinal cord injuries and has been confined to a wheelchair.

His wife, Vajiheh Marsoussi, a physician, visited him in prison and told Human Rights Watch that his medical condition was "deteriorating severely", according to CNN. Among those who were detained were also young men and women related to some of Iran's top political figures. They include the nephew of Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the hardline secretary of the Guardian Council, who has been at the forefront of calls to brutally suppress the demonstrations, according to the Guardian newspaper.

"Among us on the second day of our arrest were some sons of officials," the post said. "One of those detained claimed that Ayatollah Jannati was his uncle [although he did look like Jannati ? he was calling him bad names]. Later that day, he was taken out respectfully by the guards without being beaten or insulted," a blog, allegedly written by a released detainee, said. Mowjcamp.com, a website that is seen to be supportive of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, appeared to confirm the story, saying that the arrested man was the son of Mr Jannati's sister.

It also recounted how the "17-year-old child" of a senior judge in Iran's supreme court was arrested during a recent protest but later released following the judge's intervention, according to the Guardian. News of the participation of children of the regime's elite in the demonstrations follows last week's death of Mohsen Rouholamini, the son of a leading scientist and political insider. Rouholamini is said to have died of meningitis after being detained in Kahrizak and Evin prison. But his family say he had suffered severe facial injuries under torture.

Meanwhile, Ayatollah Jannati insisted in his Friday prayers that the June election was the "healthiest" in the 30-year history of the Islamic republic. sbhattacharya@thenational.ae *With AFP