Iran Tries 2nd Group Accused of Overthrow Plot

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 9, 2009

TEHRAN, Aug. 8 -- A second group of dissidents, demonstrators and embassy workers appeared in court Saturday as prosecutors pressed their case against opposition members accused of plotting to topple Iran's religious leadership.

More than 100 defendants were put on trial Saturday, a week after a similar hearing involving other groups of politicians, journalists and protesters. State television showed several pro-opposition politicians and demonstrators in gray prison uniforms sitting in the dock, guarded by police officers.

Outside the courthouse, brief skirmishes broke out between police and family members of the accused.

Most of the 40-page indictment focused on what prosecutors said was an attempt by Western nations -- particularly the United States and Britain -- to inspire a "velvet revolution" in the turmoil surrounding Iran's presidential election in June.

Even before the voting, Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps had accused two candidates opposing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of plotting a nonmilitary overthrow modeled after the popular uprisings that toppled governments in Georgia and Ukraine. The guards are widely thought to be behind the arrests and court case, which is playing out in Iranian state media.

"The U.S. is swamped in Iraq and Afghanistan. The possibility to use the military option against the Islamic Republic of Iran has reached its lowest level, so creating basic changes in the structure of Iran's system required covert and soft actions by the West," Iran's deputy prosecutor said, according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency.

People gathered outside the court said government supporters were bused in to fill the few places made available in court to the public.

"None of the family members could get in," said Mahdieh Mohammadi, the wife of Ahmad Zeidabadi, a journalist and critic of the government who was arrested nearly two months ago.

"About 50 women and children waited for hours in the hot sun. Suddenly the police showed up, telling us to leave. But we stayed, and they arrested some of us," she said in a telephone interview.

The prosecutor presented what he said was evidence of a well-planned plot to overthrow Iran's system of religious leadership, building on a theory one of his colleagues had introduced last week.

The prosecutor said social network sites such as Facebook, which has a Farsi version, and Twitter, which postponed maintenance throughout the protests, as well as a recent trial version of a Google Farsi translation program, were part of "beastly efforts" to create a wedge between the Iranian people and their government.

Iranian authorities have filtered Facebook and Twitter since shortly after the election.

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