Iran hangs 2 for allegedly aiming to topple state

Teheran's prosecutor announces that five people have been sentenced to death for involvement in the most recent major demonstration.

Iranian opposition (photo credit: AP)
Iranian opposition
(photo credit: AP)

Iran on Thursday executedtwo men accused of involvement in an armed anti-government group, asthe public prosecutor announced that new death sentences have beenissued against opposition activists involved in protests over June'sdisputed presidential election.

The announcements marked anescalation by the courts enforcing the clerical leadership's heavy, months long crackdown aimed at crushing the opposition challenge. Theprosecutor also said a new group of protesters and others would soon bebrought to trial.

The two men who were hanged before dawnThursday did not appear to be connected to the post-election protests —at least one of them was arrested before the election, according to hislawyer.

But state media depicted the two as part of the protestmovement, a sign of how the government has used the crackdown on theunrest to pursue other enemies, lumping them in with the politicalopposition. The media's depiction of the executions may aim tointimidate the opposition ahead of new street demonstrations expectedin February.

In a further move likely aimed at cowing protesters,Teheran's prosecutor announced that five people have been sentenced todeath for involvement in the most recent major demonstration, on Dec.27. That day saw the worst violence of the crackdown, with at leasteight people killed in clashes between police and protesters andhundreds arrested.

The new verdicts raise to nine the number ofpeople sentenced to death for involvement in protests, said theprosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi.

He also announced thatanother group of the post-election detainees would go on trial onSaturday. He said the trial will demonstrate the role of "leftists,Bahais and those who were directed by foreign hands" in the post election turmoil. He did not say how many new defendants would goon trial.

Iranian authorities have regularly accused the US, Britainand other foreign enemies of fueling the unrest in a bid to oust thecountry's clerical leaders. They have also accused followers of theBahai faith, which is illegal in Iran because it is seen as heretical.

Thetwo men who were executed, Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani and ArashRahmanipour, were convicted by a Revolutionary Court of belonging to"counterrevolutionary and monarchist groups," plotting to overthrow"the Islamic establishment" and planning assassinations and bombings,Dowlatabadi told state TV.

He said the two confessed during thetrial and that an appeals court upheld their death sentences. He madeno mention of the post-election protests in connection to the case.

Rahmanipour'slawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, told the Associated Press Thursday that the20-year-old Rahmanipour was arrested in April on the charge ofmembership in an armed opposition group, the Royal Association of Iran.

Shesaid his trial and verdict were "unfair and illegal," saying his lawyerwas not allowed to participate in the court sessions and he was forcedto confess. She said she and Rahmanipour's relatives had not beennotified of any appeal's court ruling upholding the death sentences.

AnnHarrison, an Iran expert at the London-based rights group AmnestyInternational, said that Zamani was also arrested before the Juneelection.

Iran's English language channel, Press TV, said thatamong the charges against the two was that they had a role in the 2008bombing of a mosque in the southern city of Shiraz.

Still, stateTV portrayed the executions as part of the post-election crackdown. In areport aired on the channel and reported on its Web site, it saidRahmanipour and Zamani were sentenced to death along with the nineothers "in the wake of the rioting and counterrevolutionary and anti-establishment acts of recent months." Along with the charges laidout by the prosecutor, it said they were convicted on the charge of"moharebeh," or defying God.

Harrison said the two were arrestedbefore the elections but were dragged into the post-election crackdown"as part of these mass show trials. Their indictments show theauthorities are trying to create a kind of conspiracy, to say thatforeign groups and countries are involved to discredit the opposition."

"Thetactics they are resorting to are executions as means of warning thepeople against participating in further demonstrations," she told TheAssociated Press.

The opposition says President MahmoudAhmadinejad won the June presidential election through fraud. Hundredsof thousands have poured into the streets in Iran since then on variousoccasions to support Ahmadinejad's main challenger, opposition leaderMir Hossein Mousavi.

Dozens of protesters were killed in the unrest and hundreds detained since June.

Iranhas put on trial more then 100 political activists and figures sinceAugust. The defendants have included not only those directly involvedin protests but also opposition politicians and writers — a sign thatthe leadership has used the turmoil as an opportunity to cast a widenet in pursuing its various opponents. More than 80 of those on trialhave been sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to 15 years.

Previously,authorities had said five of those on trial had been sentenced todeath. The five more announced by Dowlatabadi should raise the total to10, but he spoke only of nine. There was no explanation for thediscrepancy, but it appeared to be a sign of how others — likeRahmanipour and Zamani — have been lumped in with the protest movement.