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Pro-reform student chief claims innocence and blasts "political" trial

TEHRAN, Nov 19 (AFP) - The head of the largest pro-reform student group declared his innocence Sunday in a Tehran revolutionary court that is also trying several close allies of President Mohammad Khatami.

Ali Afshari, who heads the pro-Khatami Office to Consolidate Unity, said the court was laying "political" charges against him over his presence at a controversial seminar in Germany on the future of reform in Iran.

Like most of the 16 others on trial, Afshari has been charged with a battery of crimes including acting against national security and spreading propaganda against the regime.

Afshari told judge Hassan Moqadas that he was innocent and that since his detention he has sometimes been held in solitary confinement and been kept from seeing his lawyer.

He demanded the presence of a jury, said that he had behaved in accordance with the law, and claimed the case against him was political because he said he had defended the regime at the April gathering.

The conference, organised by Germany's Heinrich Boell Foundation, was disrupted by anti-regime opposition elements who danced, heckled speakers and even undressed in violation of Iran's Islamic mores.

Conservatives denounced the event as "anti-Islamic" and conservative-run state television repeatedly broadcast footage from the event, sparking widespread outrage. Participants were arrested upon returning to Iran.

Khatami supporters have charged the broadcast was aimed at discrediting the reform movement behind the president, who is expected to run for re-election next year.

Afshari, in the dock Sunday along with economics professor Fariborz Rais-Dana, rejected charges of supporting opposition groups and said most of the prosecution's allegations had nothing to do with the conference.

A number of close Khatami allies, including dissident cleric Hassan Yusefi-Eshkevari, journalist Akbar Ganji and one of the nation's leading female politicians, Jamileh Kadivar, are also on trial in the case.

Some defendants could be facing the death penalty, including a translator for the German embassy in Tehran who was charged with "waging war against God."


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