Tehran’s hard-line Revolutionary Court warned Sunday that those criticizing its ongoing proceedings against postelection protesters could face jail time themselves.
The threat came after a chorus of reformists and even some political conservatives labeled as a sham the televised court hearing Saturday of about 100 defendants arrested in the unrest that followed the disputed June 12 presidential election in which incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner.
Iran’s main opposition figure and presidential candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, two former presidents and a former commander of the Revolutionary Guard voiced strong criticism of the proceedings, in which prominent moderate politicians and others stand accused of conspiring with the West to foment weeks of unrest across Iran.
Mousavi said their confessions “showed signs of medieval torture” and he termed the trial a “sham” meant to distract attention from allegations of vote-rigging that continue to dog Ahmadinejad as his Wednesday inauguration to a second term nears. Mousavi and many other prominent Iranian figures have vowed to skip the swearing-in ceremony.
Mousavi predicted the confessions would backfire.
“Our people show sympathy to their children whose faces they saw after 50 days of no news,” he said in a statement carried by his website, Ghalamnews.ir.
“Don’t worry at all,” he added, addressing the prisoners. “You should know that our people understand you and they know that saving your life is the most significant matter now.”
Defendants could face jail terms of 10 years if convicted.
The nation is bracing for further confrontations between security forces and supporters of Mousavi this week as supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran’s parliament confirm Ahmadinejad for a second term.
One of the country’s main cellphone operators, Irancell, co-owned by South Africa’s MTN, warned customers Sunday that it would be suffering unspecified “technical” problems over the next three days, which coincide with the anticipated unrest.
Iranian authorities have charged a number of former officials, journalists and scholars, including Iranian American social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh, of masterminding the protests. The charges of acting against national security appear to rest largely on confessions extracted from suspects detained for weeks in solitary confinement without access to legal counsel or their families. At least four defendants on Saturday implicated themselves in a conspiracy in long, rambling confessions that were aired on television Saturday and again on Sunday.
Former President Mohammad Khatami vehemently denounced the proceedings as a “show trial” in comments published on Baran.org.ir, the website of a charity he oversees.
“Such confessions expressed under special circumstances lack any legal standing,” he said in a meeting late Saturday. “The regime and nation were insulted, and what we heard in the show trial were repetitions of what we had already heard . . . [from media] . . . in violation of legal and religious norms.”
Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, another former president who oversees two powerful government bodies, and former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezai were also critical of the trial, prompting the Revolutionary Court to issue its warning.
“People who give their views to online media and newspapers without having any information about legal affairs and seek to disturb public opinion by casting doubt on the trials should know that such acts amount to punishable offenses,” the court said.
The unusual mass trial, which the pro-Ahmadinejad Fars news agency said would resume Thursday, appears to be outside the normal channels of Iranian justice. Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi has been silent about the proceedings, while some prominent hard-liners have condemned the airing of confessions as unconstitutional.
Critics said the indictment, prepared by the office of Tehran’s prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, at times read like editorials in the nation’s most extreme newspapers, especially Kayhan, which on Sunday called for authorities to put both Khatami and Mousavi on trial on charges of acting against God, offenses that carry the death penalty in Iran. Some lawmakers have already petitioned the judiciary to arrest both men.
The indictment says reformists now under arrest plotted for years to stage a revolution against the Islamic Republic with the help of Iran’s Western rivals, and had long planned to accuse Ahmadinejad of cheating, regardless of the facts.
Mousavi and others quickly rejected such allegations. An additional 10 suspects were tried behind closed doors Sunday, the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency reported.
Many of the defendants have been behind bars since mid-June, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets to protest the election results. Some were beaten or shot by security forces and pro-government Basiji militiamen.
The government has acknowledged that at least 30 people were killed in the unrest, but human rights groups and Western analysts say more than 100 have died, including several college students attacked in their dorms by pro-government militias. Also among the dead is Mohsen Ruholamini, the son of an advisor to former Revolutionary Guard chief Rezai.
Ruholamini, whose friends say he was beaten in Evin Prison, died during a meningitis outbreak there.
In a letter published Sunday, Rezai called on the judiciary to prosecute the “wayward elements” who attacked the university dorms.
“If such a trial is not held, no justice has been done and the Islamic regime of Iran will suffer another blow,” the semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency quoted the letter as reading. “Chain errors will go on and the society will never witness calm.”
Special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.