Former Iranian Official Who Blogged in Protest Offers Different View From Prison

Former Iranian vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi offered a confession at a trial session last month. The opposition says such confessions are being coerced.
Former Iranian vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi offered a confession at a trial session last month. The opposition says such confessions are being coerced. (Stringer/iran - Reuters)
By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 4, 2009

TEHRAN, Sept. 3 -- The headline on the last blog item that former Iranian vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi published before his June 15 arrest -- "It was a huge swindling" -- left no doubt that he believed that his country's presidential election had been stolen.

His more recent entries, from prison, have taken a different view.

"The majority of detainees know there was no real cheating," the onetime opposition leader wrote in a recent posting.

"Whoever understands present-day Iran realizes that the street riots are against Iran's glory, history and people," he wrote in another.

Abtahi has been allowed to continue blogging from his prison cell by his "good friend the interrogator," he writes, and he wants the Iranian people to know that he did not come under any pressure to change his mind about what he once decried as massive rigging by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's supporters to keep the hard-liner in office.

But Abtahi's family and friends say they don't buy it. The blog, they say, is just one more example of a pervasive campaign by the government to purge the opposition through show trials and forced confessions after protests over the outcome of the June 12 election shook the foundations of the Islamic republic. The official results showed that Ahmadinejad won in a landslide, but the opposition believes that the tally was fraudulent and has said the election should be annulled.

After hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets this summer, the government cracked down hard to suppress dissent. Since then, more than 100 opposition members have been put on trial on various charges, including treason, with the prosecutor at one point asking a judge to give them "the maximum punishment." Many of the detainees have given elaborate statements confessing to their involvement in complex plots against the government, supposedly masterminded with the help of foreign powers.

In their court appearances, some of the accused have looked haggard and frail. Several jailed protesters have died in custody, with at least one reportedly having been beaten to death.

The detainees include politicians, academics and journalists. Like Abtahi, who served as vice president in the early part of this decade and had become a popular reformist blogger, many were prominent, mainstream members of Iranian society until the protests, when the government declared them enemies of the state.

Abtahi's family says his latest postings from jail, along with a courtroom confession, are designed to convince a skeptical public that he truly regrets his past statements against the Ahmadinejad government.

"By having him write on his own weblog, they are trying to repeat attempts to make his confession acceptable to others," said Abtahi's wife, Fahimeh Mousavinejad.

In one post, Abtahi expresses amazement that other prisoners have not yet confessed to their roles in the plot to overthrow the government, and he urges them to come clean. He is relieved, he writes, to be able to concede the truth, which he maintains is not influenced by what his interrogator wants him to say.

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