Iran releases ex-official on bail in mass trial

AP News
Posted: Nov 22, 2009 12:00 PM

Iran released a former vice president on a $700,000 bail Sunday after his lawyer said he had been sentenced to six years in prison in the mass trial of opposition figures accused of fomenting the post-election unrest.

Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who served under former President Mohammad Khatami in his two terms from 1997-2005, is the most senior former official among more than 100 people on trial since August. After his arrest, he made televised confessions saying he had provoked people to riot. But his family and other opposition figures said the statements were coerced _ a claim also made about other defendants' confessions during the trial.

Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said Abtahi was released on a $700,000 bail after the verdict was delivered, the official IRNA news agency reported. The report did not say what his sentence was.

Last week, state television reported that five defendants in the mass trial have been sentenced to death and 81 had received prison terms ranging from six months up to 15 years. Few have been released on bail.

In the weeks following the June 12 election, the opposition led massive street protests that drew hundreds of thousands and supporters clashed with security forces. They claimed fraud after authorities declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner of a second term, and the protests were the most serious internal unrest in Iran in the 30 years since the Islamic Revolution.

Iran's clergy-led establishment accused the protesters of trying to stage a "velvet revolution." A harsh crackdown ended the demonstrations and a security sweep went far beyond rounding up just protesters on the streets, snatching up rights activists and journalists, as well as pro-reform politicians.

Rights groups and opposition figures in Iran have criticized the court proceedings against them as a "show trial."

The government has stopped short of indicting the most visible opposition leaders, presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, but there have been signs in recent weeks that could change. The opposition says Mousavi is the rightful winner of the election.

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Khatami, who Abtahi served under, is now one of the leading figures in the pro-reform movement in Iran.

Abtahi's lawyer Saleh Nikbakht said he planned to appeal the six-year prison sentence. He has 20 days to make the appeal.

Iran has accused the defendants in the trial of a range of offenses from security violations, agitating against the Islamic Republic, violating law and order, damaging public and private property, and assaulting civilians and security forces.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who openly backed Ahmadinejad's election victory, has said it is a crime to question the legitimacy of the June vote.