TEHRAN, (Reuters) – Five people detained in connection with violent anti-government protests in Iran last month went on trial on Monday on charges that may be punishable by the death penalty, Iranian media reported.
The five people in the dock were not identified, but the official news agency IRNA said earlier they were members of the armed People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), an exile group opposed to the Islamic system of government. They were accused of “moharebeh” — an Islamic term meaning waging war against God — which carries the death sentence, ISNA news agency said.
It was the first trial reported by Iranian media of people arrested over the unrest on Ashura, the day of ritual Shi’ite Muslim mourning that fell on Dec. 27.
Eight people were killed in clashes between security forces and supporters of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi in the most serious violence in Iran since the aftermath of the disputed presidential election in June.
The opposition website Rahesabz said earlier this month more than 180 people, including 17 journalists, 10 Mousavi aides and some members of the outlawed Baha’i faith were arrested after the December demonstrations.
The authorities have rejected opposition allegations of vote rigging to secure the re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and portrayed opposition protests after the vote as a foreign-backed attempt to undermine the Islamic state.
“The trial of the five detainees from Ashura day, under the charge of moharebeh, began at the Tehran Islamic Revolution Court,” ISNA reported.
Tehran chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told IRNA the charges included setting fire to public property and other anti-government activities.
“One of the punishments of moharebeh is execution and it will have to be determined by the presiding judge,” he said.
Hardline clerics and authorities have called on the judiciary to punish opposition leaders for creating tension in Iran, saying they were “mohareb” (enemies of God).
The June election plunged Iran into its most serious internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution and exposed divisions within the establishment.
Thousands of people protesting against the conduct of the vote were arrested. Most of them have since been released, although more than 80 people have received jail sentences of up to 15 years. Five people were sentenced to death.