Iran plans to put on trial about 20 people accused of rioting in the aftermath of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election as the embattled president came under fire again yesterday from hardliners over a series of controversial political decisions.
The official IRNA news agency reported that the 20 “rioters” would go on trial from Saturday on charges including bombings, carrying firearms and grenades, attacking Basij militiamen and security forces and maintaining contacts with the exiled opposition group the People's Mujahedeen.
“They are also charged with attacking military units and universities, sending pictures to enemy media, organizing thugs and rioters, vandalizing public and state property including destroying banks and houses,” it said.
However, Iranian prosecutor Ghorban Ali Dorri Najafabadi also announced that a “considerable” number of protesters would be freed by the end of the Iranian week on Friday.
The news comes a day after authorities freed 140 protesters, while about 200 remain behind bars, including 50 suspected of masterminding riots, said a lawmaker who visited detainees on Tuesday.
The moves are being seen as gestures to the opposition movement which has branded Ahmadinejad's re-election a fraud and protested over the subsequent crackdown on demonstrators and political activists.
However, the authorities continue to ban opposition gatherings and have refused to issue a permit for a planned mourning ceremony in Tehran today.
Amid the mounting political tensions, Ahmadinejad came under fire from his own hardline supporters, who warned him to obey Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's order this week to close a jail holding detainees as it was “not up to required standards.”
The president's standing has been weakened even within his own camp, forcing him into a humiliating climbdown over a political appointment that was blocked by Khamenei.
“One should not hesitate in implementing the leader's order,” hardline cleric and vocal Ahmadinejad critic Ahmad Khatami was quoted as saying by the Resalat newspaper.
“Mr Ahmadinejad must apologize to people,” said the front-page headline of Yalesarat, a hardline weekly newspaper.
Another harsh warning came from prominent conservative group the Islamic Society of Engineers.
“The people's continued support for you depends on your unconditional obedience of the supreme leader and departing from this path will have consequences,” it said in a letter to Ahmadinejad published on Tuesday.
In another slap in the face for Ahmadinejad, 210 of the country's 290 lawmakers signed a statement on Tuesday praising Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei — the intelligence chief sacked by Ahmadinejad — saying he had passed a “great test” in defending Khamenei.
Iran's top dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri also lashed out at the country's regime over the deaths in custody of election protesters.
“Those who are behind bars are being forced to confess under torture and every day a body is being delivered to their family,” Montazeri said in a letter posted on his Web site.