Iran's reformers decry secret death sentences
TEHRAN, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Pro-reform newspapers in Iran voiced dismay
on Monday that a Revolutionary Court had met in secret to sentence four
people to death for their role in July's pro-democracy unrest.
Several dailies accused the conservative court of mishandling the case
for political ends.
They said the public had been shocked to learn of the verdicts, revealed
in a weekend newspaper interview with Gholamhossein Rahbarpour (see photo),
head of Revolutionary Courts in Tehran.
Editorialists argued that Iran's moves towards a civil society required
greater openness from courts and other officials. They said that the court
had ignored a report on the unrest by the Supreme National Security Council
(SNSC), Iran's top security body, that focused much of its attention on
the police misconduct that sparked the trouble and took a relatively soft
line on student involvement in the ensuing turmoil.
``Rahbarpour's statements are part of the conservative campaign against
the report of the (SNSC) investigating committee, which was somewhat lenient
on the students,'' said an editorial in the pro-reform daily Arya.
``The announcement...in an interview of death sentences for four of
those accused of inciting riots...was shocking for public opinion that
has been kept uninformed about the court proceedings,'' said a commentary
in Akhbar-e Eqtesad.
``The lack of clear reference to the charges and even their identities
has added to the vague nature of this interview.''
Even the conservative Entekhab lamented that Rahbarpour had conveyed
such an important announcement through an exclusive interview, and it worried
that Iran's standing abroad could be undermined by the handling of the
On Sunday, the hardline daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami carried the interview
with Rahbarpour in which he announced that two of the execution orders
had been confirmed by the supreme court and two others were under judicial
The judge, who did not list the charges or even the names of those convicted,
said other death sentences could follow.
His remarks were the first public indication that trials had already
been completed for some of the roughly 1,000 suspects handed over to the
Revolutionary Courts in connection with some of the worst unrest since
the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The unrest began after police and hardline vigilantes attacked a peaceful
student demonstration at Tehran University against the banning of a reformist
newspaper, killing at least one person and injuring scores.
That attack touched off escalating protests, including demands for change
in Iran's system of supreme clerical rule, that culminated in two days
of street riots in central Tehran.
The authorities finally restored order after calling out the Islamic
Basij militia, staging a massive counter-demonstration in favour of the
clerical system and denouncing ringleaders as ``mohareb'' (those fighting
God) and ``mofsed'' (those spreading corruption), charges that commonly
carry the death penalty.
Reformers grouped around President Mohammad Khatami have largely kept
silent in the face of allegations by the security forces, backed by televised
``confessions,'' that dissident exiles and extremist student leaders were
to blame for the unrest.
But first reactions to the death sentences suggest moderates are prepared
to challenge the establishment view of the protests.
In particular, they took issue with the judge's characterisation of
individual student leaders, and Iran's biggest pro-reform student movement,
as impious and opposed to the broader interests of the system.