ANKARA (Reuters) - Mehdi Karroubi, an elderly Iranian opposition leader under house arrest since 2011, was hospitalized on Thursday after starting a hunger strike to support his demand for a public trial, his official website reported.
Opposition leaders Karroubi, Mirhossein Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard have been confined to their homes for six-and-a-half years after calling for rallies in solidarity with pro-democracy uprisings then shaking Arab countries.
They have never been put on trial or publicly charged. Both Karroubi, 80, and Mousavi, 75, suffer from ailments partly associated with their age. Karroubi has been hospitalized twice in recent weeks and underwent heart surgery.
Karroubi's son, Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, confirmed the Sahamnews website report on his Twitter account: "At 1 a.m. Thursday father was sent to hospital due to the hunger strike. Pray a lot".
Sahamnews quoted the Shi'ite cleric's wife, Fatemeh Karroubi, as saying that he would refuse "to eat or drink until his demands are met".
Karroubi and Mousavi ran in what became a disputed 2009 election that returned hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power and triggered mass protests ultimately crushed by the elite Revolutionary Guards and its affiliated Basij militia.
Dozens of political activists, lawmakers, journalists and artists have urged pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani to fulfill his campaign promises of getting the opposition leaders freed, but he has been blocked by security and judiciary services that answer only to hardline Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"He does not expect a fair trial but wants it to be public and would respect the verdict," Karroubi's wife told Sahamnews on Wednesday.
Karroubi, a former parliament speaker, has also asked for security forces to leave his house, which is under round-the-clock surveillance by the Revolutionary Guards.
"He wants the security guards to leave the premises of his house," Karroubi's wife told Sahamnews on Wednesday.
"Such a level of surveillance has never been seen before or after the (1979 Islamic) revolution ... He wants the authorities to announce when they will hold a public trial."
The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on called on Wednesday for the immediate release of "ailing political leaders".
"Karroubi's life is in danger and the state, which has detained him without trial, is responsible for whatever happens to him while he is in its custody," CHRI executive director Hadi Ghaemi said.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by Mark Heinrich)