x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Spies or pawns in a power struggle?

The key questions surrounding the trials in Tehran.

The accused are charged with spying and aiding a western plot. But Iran in the past has often arrested foreigners to pressure the West, particularly the US and Britain. Tehran has always been worried about a western plot to overthrow the clerical establishment. France and Britain in the past few months have played an active role in Iran's nuclear stand-off with the West, pushing for more sanctions over Tehran's defiance to halt sensitive uranium enrichment activities. Iran may want to use the detainees as a card to alleviate that pressure. The aftermath of the election is an opportunity to try and teach the West a lesson over its vulnerability in Iran. The West accuses Iran of using its nuclear programme as a front to acquire bombs. Iran says its nuclear work is aimed at generating electricity for domestic use.

Iranian hardliners accuse moderates of being supported by the West. In the trial, moderates were accused of receiving financial help from abroad to topple the ruling clergy. The clerical establishment aims to uproot opposition by using the post-election unrest.

Iran has often broadcast confessions in the past from those accused of threatening state security. Many Iranians doubt these confessions. The mass trial of moderates has been denounced by leading reformers, including former president Mohammad Khatami and opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, as a "show trial". Many Iranians believe that confessions were taken under duress.

The Iranians cannot forget the role Britain played inciting the 1953 coup to topple Iran's nationalist prime minister Mohammad Ali Mosadeq. The United States was also the main backer of the Shah, overthrown by Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. However, this does not necessarily mean moderate Iranians believe in the official accusations about the West's "meddling" in Iran's June presidential vote.

It is has been difficult for the authorities to accept that, 30 years after the revolution, tens of thousand people staged protests against the re-election of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, defying the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who endorsed the election result.

In similar cases, detainees have been sentenced to prison, but were pardoned shortly after their verdicts were issued as a goodwill gesture to the West. * Reuters