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Iran launches mass trial of opposition

100 Iranians, including journalists, accused of trying to launch "Velvet Revolution" against the government.

Member of a moderate political party Mohammad Atrianfar (L), dressed in prison uniform, speaks at a tribunal session in Tehran on August 1, 2009. Seated at right is former Vice President Ali Abtahi. About 100 leading Iranian reformists went on trial on Saturday, accused of trying to topple the clerical establishment by orchestrating mass protests after the disputed presidential election, Iranian media reported. (Fars News/Reuters)

Editor’s note: GlobalPost correspondent Iason Athanasiadis reported on the demonstrations in Iran. He was arrested in Tehran and held in jail for three weeks. He is now reporting on Iran from Turkey.

ISTANBUL — A mass trial of about 100 Iranians accused by the government with fomenting a revolution opened in Tehran Saturday and was dismissed as a "politically motivated and illegal indictment" by the pro-reform Islamic Participation Party.

The trial opened after a week in which anti-government protests resumed after a lull in the demonstrations which challenged the June 12 elections, despite harsh crackdowns by authorities.

On Monday Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was endorsed for a second term by the country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a ceremony that sought to portray unity among the country's leadership but was snubbed by prominent critics of the election results, according to Associated Press.

Only state-owned media covered the proceedings of the first sitting of the previously unannounced trial held at a Revolutionary Court in Tehran. Reformist journalists were excluded. The hardline semiofficial Fars News Agency provided live blogging from the proceedings.

Defendants were accused of having “participated in riots, acting against national security, disturbing public order, vandalising public and government property, having ties with counter-revolutionary groups and planning to launch a velvet revolution,” according to the indictment.

A number of print and photo journalists were accused of sending information and pictures of the riots out of the country. Iranian-Canadian Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari is one  of the accused. Several younger defendants were charged with producing hand-grenades, Molotov cocktails and targeting regime security forces during the street riots that followed the contested June 12 presidential elections.

Reporters Without Borders denounced the proceedings as “a travesty of a trial.”

The maximum sentence is ten years, except if the accused are judged to have been mohareb (an Islamic term that means battling Allah) in which case the punishment is death.

The accused filing into the courtroom was a  parade of reformist personalities in prison garb, including former ministers, a former vice president and the editor of an influential daily. Some were in shackles. They sat among Islamic Republic officials on red conference chairs flanked by television cameras.