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Iran Tries Second Group of Election Protesters

An Iranian revolutionary court held its second session in a week to try dozens of activists, journalists and protesters arrested during weeks of unrest in the aftermath of a disputed June 12 presidential election. Opposition leaders are calling the trials illegitimate.

The government-run Iranian News Network announced the second session, Saturday, of a series of trials of dozens of leaders and protesters from the opposition movement. The TV news report accused them of trying to topple the Islamic Republic and of inciting violence.

The closed door session of Iran's revolutionary court took place amid a certain hush, with government TV publicizing the trial while limiting coverage of what was actually being said. At the first session, one week ago, just a few cross-examinations were televised.

Most of the defendants were dressed in pajamas and slippers and surrounded by police guards who were sitting next to them. Many stared at the ground, some looked resigned and others put their hands to their faces, according to images on the Iranian Student News Agency website.

Among the defendants at Saturday's triaL: a French woman professor, an Iranian analyst at the British Embassy, a French Embassy employee and an Iranian correspondent for the U.S. magazine Newsweek.

The British Foreign Office condemned the trial of its Tehran embassy employee, calling it "completely unacceptable," and adding that it "deplore[s] these trials and the so-called confessions of prisoners who have been denied their basic human rights."

The official Iranian news agency (IRNA), for its part, claimed that the British embassy was "sending reports about disorder and violence [in Iran] to U.S. officials."

IRNA also went on to allege that European diplomats were "participating in illegal gatherings," and that their "purpose was to weaken [(Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei]."

Iran analyst Mehrdad Khonsari of the London-based Center for Arab and Iranian Studies argues that the Iranian government, after commencing with the trials of opposition figures, cannot lose face by backing down at this point.

"The most important factor at this point is that the regime cannot be seen as moving in a backward direction, so they have to go through with this process or ritual and their aim is to indicate that these people are guilty as charged and then try to show some leniency towards the people inside … in other words, they would sentence, let's say, one of the reformers to 10 years in prison, and then let them go on the agreement that they will not violate their parole and not participate in further demonstrations or criticism of the regime," said Khonsari.

Unconfirmed reports on opposition Web sites say that government security forces closed off most of the area in front of the court and scuffled with opposition protesters, before driving a large crowd of protesters away from the area.

Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami have condemned the trials, calling them "illegal" and complaining that the defendants have been tortured into making "groundless confessions."