- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 2, 2009

TEHRAN | Iran began its first trial of the post-election crisis Saturday, a mass court case against more than 100 activists and protesters accused of plotting a “velvet revolution” to topple clerical rule.

Some of the most prominent politicians of the pro-reform movement, including a former vice president, were among the defendants brought before the court in gray prison uniforms. Some of the defendants were handcuffed to each other in pairs.

Coming days before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to be sworn in to a second term, the mass trial was part of the government’s efforts to choke off a persistent protest movement by Iranians who claim his June 12 re-election was engineered through fraud.

The protesters have presented the cleric-led regime with its biggest challenge since the 1979 revolution, despite a brutal crackdown that has left hundreds in prison.

A prosecutor used Saturday’s hearing to press the government’s claims that the opposition is a tool of foreign enemies. He accused the three biggest opposition parties of receiving money from foreign nongovernmental organizations as they plotted a government overthrow.

The charges, read out in court by the prosecutor from a 15-page indictment, included attacking military and government buildings, having links with armed opposition groups and conspiring against the ruling system, Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

Reformists denounced the trial and said the defendants had no access to lawyers.

The indictment described a purported years-long plot by the top pro-reform political parties to carry out a “velvet revolution,” a popular, nonviolent uprising to overthrow the Islamic republic similar to ones in Eastern Europe. The phrase comes from the peaceful 1989 Velvet Revolution that overthrew decades of communism in Czechoslovakia.

The prosecutor said the three main opposition parties had taken money from foreign NGOs and had sought to use the election controversy as an opportunity to carry out their plot, according to a transcript reported by IRNA. He claimed Israeli and Western officials have spoken in recent years of fomenting revolution in Iran.

IRNA did not report how many defendants were in court, but the semi-official Fars News Agency said more than 100 defendants were present.

They included several prominent reformist opposition activists. Among them were former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, former government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, former Vice Speaker of Parliament Behzad Nabavi, former Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh and the leader of the biggest reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, Mohsen Mirdamadi.

Among the others on trial Saturday were two foreign citizens - Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh and Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari, who holds Iranian and Canadian citizenship.

Mr. Abtahi served as vice president under former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, a strong ally of the man who says he was the rightful winner of the June election, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Reformist lawmaker Mohammad Reza Tabesh said he had information from Mr. Abtahi’s wife that the former vice president had lost 40 pounds after 43 days in custody.

IRNA reported that during Saturday’s hearing Mr. Abtahi confessed to making preparations to foment unrest with other reformist leaders.

“We made extensive exercises to keep people in the streets because it would make sense within the framework of fraud in elections,” IRNA quoted Mr. Abtahi as saying.

Rights groups have said such confessions are often obtained under duress in Iran.

Mr. Abtahi also was quoted as saying that powerful former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani backed Mr. Mousavi to take revenge on Mr. Ahmadinejad, who defeated him in the 2005 election, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A statement released by the State Expediency Council, a body led by Mr. Rafsanjani, denied the claim and said Mr. Abtahi’s remarks were false.

The reformist Web site www.mowjcamp.com denounced Saturday’s trial as a sham and said defendants had no access to lawyers.

On Monday, Ayatollah Khamenei will lead a ceremony formally approving Mr. Ahmadinejad’s second term, and two days later Mr. Ahmadinejad is to be sworn in before parliament.

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