Hard-line supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used Iran's judiciary to target two major moderate political parties Tuesday in their boldest attempt to excise the nation's reform movement from the political scene.
The prosecution at the trial of more than 100 reform leaders arrested after the June 12 presidential election urged the judge to outlaw the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization. The two groups are considered pillars of the reform movement that took control of the country's presidency and parliament during a liberal era that began in the late 1990s and ended earlier this decade.
Foreign and domestic legal experts have derided the proceedings as a "show trial."
Featured in the courtroom Tuesday was Saeed Hajjarian, a severely disabled reformist leader who was left paralyzed when a suspected hard-line would-be assassin shot him in the face at point-blank range nine years ago. Another defendant read his alleged confession before the television cameras.
Hajjarian was among hundreds of dissidents, journalists and protesters who were swept up and jailed during the mass demonstrations and unrest that followed the disputed election, which was marred by allegations of massive vote-rigging.
Hard-liners began a series of trials this month in an attempt to tie the unrest to foreign and domestic enemies, showcasing humiliating televised admissions of guilt obtained from political figures held for weeks in solitary confinement.
"I committed big errors through my inaccurate analyses of the recent elections and I do regret my behavior," said a lesser-known defendant reading the purported statement by Hajjarian. "I do apologize to the Iranian nation because of my inaccurate analyses which resulted in incorrect actions."
But the court proceedings have failed to cow government opponents. A statement issued by the Participation Front read:
"The bill of indictment was not against the accused who were present at the court session, but it was against parties and groups which have been thorns in the side of power for years. By God's grace we will step forward stronger than ever."
Ahmadinejad's hard-line group is preparing to confront seasoned conservative rivals in parliament, an energized judiciary newly stacked with its adversaries and a smoldering protest movement that regards the government as illegitimate.
Analysts say the trial could damage reformists' ability to operate legally and hamper efforts by opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi and others to turn the protest movement into a legitimate political force.
The prosecutor reiterated allegations that reformists and civil-society activists worked with Western organizations to foment unrest and topple the government in a peaceful "velvet" revolution of the kind that swept away authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe.
"Defeated political groups joined hostile Western media and the embassies of colonialist governments to take advantage of public sentiment and emotion for certain losing candidates for the purpose of setting fire to the achievements of the nation," the indictment read, according to government media.
Critics said the trial was filled with irregularities.
The wording of the alleged confessions reflected the worldview of Iran's hard-liners. One defendant confessed that the son of Ahmadinejad rival Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was involved in financial shenanigans to bolster his father's political ambitions. Mehdi Rafsanjani quickly responded, denying the allegations and urging the judiciary instead to look for hundreds of millions of dollars that he said went missing during Ahmadinejad's tenure.
Only six of the 19 prisoners brought into the expansive courtroom were on trial. There was no explanation for the presence of the others, including Iranian American social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh.
As in the previous three sessions of the trial, only reporters with news organizations controlled by Ahmadinejad or his loyalists were granted access to the courtroom. The families of those detained complained in a letter to judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani that the trials violated the basic rights of press access to the court and trial by jury.
"The lawyers are not even informed of where the hearings are held, nor have they studied the dossiers," said the letter, according to the website Norooznews.ir. "We ask you, as Iran's top judge, to bring the ongoing judicial case back on the right track to keep the judiciary from losing more face."
Hajjarian's lawyer of 10 years, Gholam-Ali Riahi, stepped down after he was told that Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi had appointed another attorney to defend his client, a reformist website said.
One defendant, Abdollah Ramazanzadeh, a government official whose confession had just been published on right-wing websites, Tuesday vowed to stand by his views and decried his treatment by the government. He said he was arrested hours after the polls closed and has not seen his family since.
"We have been ordered to not reveal where we are being held," he told reporters, according to the semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency. "I have been held in solitary confinement for 74 days. My arrest was an error. . . . I will continue to defy the [Ahmadinejad] government if it pushes ahead with its previous policies."