Iran's legal system came under fresh criticism Wednesday amid allegations of prisoner abuse and controversy over televised courtroom confessions, decried as "show trials" by domestic and international critics.
The country's leading opposition figurehead and a prominent conservative, both losing candidates in June's disputed presidential election, denounced the trials and alleged violence against detained protesters. A statement purportedly signed by a group of Tehran judges condemned the treatment of prisoners and the televised confessions of suspects allegedly mistreated and held in solitary confinement for weeks without lawyers.
Authorities hinted that they might release 24-year-old French national Clotilde Reiss on bail into the custody of the French Embassy in Tehran. The researcher was arrested and held for weeks for taking pictures of postelection demonstrations and e-mailing messages about the unrest to her friends. Her confession was aired Saturday, drawing condemnation from the European Union and France.
Meanwhile, parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani dismissed as fabrications hyped by the Western media allegations that detained protesters had been sexually abused, a day after promising an investigation. The accusations surfaced this week in a letter written by a leading reformist politician.
"The content of this letter was shocking and it attracted the attention of foreign media straight away," Larijani, a conservative rival to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said in a speech reported by the conservative Mehr news agency. "Since this was a sensitive issue, I asked the parliament's fact-finding committee to investigate the issue. The parliament's fact-finding committee has denied that the detainees were sexually assaulted."
Iran's political factions have been jostling for power since Ahmadinejad's disputed election victory and ensuing weeks of civil unrest. Protesters took to the Tehran bazaar Wednesday in an attempt to hold an unauthorized rally but were thwarted by what witnesses described as a heavy presence of uniformed and plainclothes security officials.
Although Larijani came to the government's defense on the abuse charges, he and his parliamentary allies are preparing to do battle with Ahmadinejad's forces over the composition of the next Cabinet. The president's supporters have begun criticizing Larijani in news outlets, questioning his academic credentials and suggesting he backs opposition figure Mir-Hossein Mousavi.
Breaking days of silence, Mousavi accused hard-liners of playing into the hands of international rivals by abusing prisoners and staging trials in which prominent reformists were placed next to members of outlawed militant groups.
"Are people's protests, which were in compliance with the constitution, serving U.S. and British interests or [are] the show trials?" he told a group of reformists, according to his news website, Ghalamnews.ir. "What is going on in prisons is well indicative of the necessity for a deep reform inside the country."
Mousavi was defeated by Ahmadinejad in the disputed election. Mohsen Rezai, the sole conservative who ran against Ahmadinejad, told a group of human rights lawyers presenting him with evidence of detainee abuse that Iran should declare a day of mourning "if the immoral actions" they chronicled were accurate.
"If your report regarding abuse in prison and misconduct on the streets is true, all offenders have to be dismissed and stand trial," Rezai said, according to the Mehr news agency.