With death sentences, Iran seeks to cow opposition

It didn't take much for Iranian courts to sentence 10 people to death over the country's post-election turmoil. For one prisoner, the main evidence was that he allegedly sent videos of protests abroad.

The government accuses the 10 of leading unrest after the disputed presidential election, but none of them seem to have played any significant role in the protest movement. What most of the prisoners have in common is tenuous past links to a much-disliked exile movement, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq Organization.

The death sentences are widely seen as an attempt to cow the opposition ahead of the anniversary of the disputed June 12 election that sparked nationwide protests. They also reflect the regime's campaign to tarnish the opposition by depicting it as a tool of the MKO, an armed group that was largely wiped out in Iran in the late 1980s and remains widely reviled among Iranians.

"The Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards are certainly very eager to portray the protest movement as a confrontation between the regime and the MKO," said Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. "But there is no evidence of the MKO having notable support among the protesters or ... any role in demonstrations."

The death sentences are succeeding in spreading a chill among the opposition. Some student leaders say they're hesitant to call supporters to risk their lives by participating in demonstrations.

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