Iranian journalist gets prison term, desert exile

AP News
|
Posted: Jan 03, 2010 4:11 PM

An Iranian journalist lost an appeal Sunday against his conviction on charges of spreading propaganda against the ruling Islamic establishment and was sentenced to six years in prison and five years of internal exile in a remote desert town.

The court also confirmed a lifelong ban on political activity for the prominent reporter, Ahmad Zeidabadi, who was also once a student activist.

Zeidabadi was among more than 100 political figures and activists tried together in the aftermath of Iran's disputed presidential election, which the opposition says was rigged to give Mahmoud Ahmadinejad another term in office.

The mass trial and a crackdown on street demonstrations has failed to silence the opposition movement, which has also confronted Iran's clerical leaders and demanded greater social and political freedoms.

Iran's interior minister said on Sunday that he has ordered police to show no leniency to anyone who turns up at opposition protests.

At least eight people died during anti-government protests in cities across Iran on Dec. 27, including a nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. It was the worst bloodshed since the height of the unrest in the weeks immediately after the June election.

While on trial, Zeidabadi went on a nine-day hunger strike in August and had to be hospitalized, a pro-reform Web site reported at the time.

The 44-year-old Zeidabadi led a group of reformists who were once members of Iran's largest student organization, the Office for Fostering Unity.

His wife, Mahdieh Mohammadi, said her husband's lawyer informed her of the appeals court's ruling on Sunday. As part of his sentence, he will have to spend five years in internal exile in the town of Gonabad, about 620 miles _ or 1,000 kilometers _ east of the capital, on the edge of the second-largest desert in Iran, the Namak desert, his wife told The Associated Press.

Authorities detained Mousavi's political adviser, Mohammad Reza Tajik, on Saturday, though there has been no official comment on what he is accused of.

Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar again accused the United States, Britain and Israel of supporting the unrest in Iran and promised a harsher crackdown against protesters, state television reported Sunday.

"We see that Mr. Obama and British and Israeli officials support and lead violators," the report quoted Najjar as saying. "We ordered police not to show any leniency. If someone appears in protests and accompanies violators, police will treat him strongly."

Najjar claimed that more than 3 million people participated in a pro-government rally on Wednesday in which demonstrators called for the execution of opposition leaders.

Authorities have detained dozens of activists since the Dec. 27 opposition protests. At Tehran's Azad University, 10 student activists were suspended for up to two terms of study for participating in protests, state TV reported.

Besides the internal unrest, Iran also faces confrontation on the international level over its nuclear activity and its missile programs. The United States and its European allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability under the cover of a civilian nuclear program.

Iran denies that and says it only wants to generate nuclear power.

The standoff has prompted Israeli threats to take military action against Iran's nuclear sites if diplomatic efforts fail to resolve the dispute.

State-run Press TV reported Sunday that Iran is planning to stage large-scale war games next month to improve its "defensive capabilities."

The report quoted the army's ground forces chief, Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, as saying the exercises will seek to prepare Iran's military to repel any possible attack from its enemies.

The drills will involve the regular armed forces and the elite Revolutionary Guard, which hold regular exercises two or three times a year.