TEHRAN (LA TIMES)–Iran’s judiciary will set up a special court to try protesters arrested in the surge of civil unrest since the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a judiciary official said on state television, as the government continues its crackdown aimed at crushing its greatest domestic challenge in 30 years.
Meanwhile, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who suffered a landslide defeat to Ahmadinejad in the marred elections, defied authorities and called on his supporters to continue peaceful protests, sharpening his conflict with the government.
“The protest against vote-rigging and untruth is your right,” he said in a statement carried on a news website affiliated with his presidential campaign. “In your protest, keep avoiding violence and be like kind, broken-hearted parents to poorly behaving children in the law enforcement forces.”
He also urged his supporters not to lose heart. “Be hopeful in obtaining your rights,” he said. “Do not become irritated by those who try to make you hopeless and intimidate you.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ordered protesters to halt their marches and has ridiculed vote-fraud allegations in the June 12 election while standing staunchly behind Ahmadinejad.
But an initial probe into the fraud allegations shows that the number of ballots cast exceeded the number of registered voters in 50 locales, according to the spokesman of the Guardian Council, a body of jurists and clerics in charge of safeguarding the country’s constitution.
“It has yet to be determined whether the possible change in the tally is decisive in the election results,” Abbas-Ali Kadkhodai, a spokesman for the Guardian Council, said, according to the Khabar Online news website.
The Guardian Council will deliver its final verdict on the election by Wednesday, according to a report by the Islamic Republic News Agency.
Iran, under pressure from the West for its pursuit of advanced nuclear technology and its support of Arab militant groups opposed to Israel, continues to reel from days of peaceful protest that culminated in a chaotic day of fighting Saturday between security forces and demonstrators. The street combat came after Khamenei ordered demonstrators off the streets in a Friday prayer sermon interpreted as a call to semiofficial pro-government vigilantes to crack down on the rallies.
Iranian authorities have blamed the West for stirring up the unrest. In public statements and television broadcasts, they have particularly targeted Britain, which launched the popular BBC Persian-language news channel earlier this year. Following threats and the expulsion of the BBC Tehran bureau chief, the British embassy ordered the families of its expatriate staff out of the country today.
Heavy contingents of anti-riot police safeguarded key downtown squares, including Haft Tir, where police using tear gas chased off a group of 200 or so demonstrators.
There were signs that the protesters’ enthusiasm was tapering off. Police dragged off a young man in a green shirt, the official color of the Mousavi campaign, without raising the hackles from pedestrians that erupted during similar encounters in previous days.
Judiciary official Ebrahim Raisi said special tribunals will be set up to process hundreds of “rioters” and “thugs” caught in security sweeps during the unrest after preliminary investigation.
“The judiciary will set up special courts for those cases which are passed on to the judiciary,” he said in comments broadcast on state television. “Hopefully, they will receive their legal punishments and our dear people will be informed of their punishments.”
The Tehran prosecutor’s office said it had arrested at least 457 people in Saturday’s unrest but a source inside Evin prison said nearly 1,000 had been brought in. It announced that it had launched a probe into a series of alleged killings of protesters, denying that police were behind the violence.
Authorities say 13 people were killed and 20 injured on Saturday. Iranian officials say the casualties were caused by “armed terrorists” who infiltrated the rallies, burned down a mosque and two gas stations and attacked a military base, according to a report on the website of the state-owned Press TV news channel.
Mousavi called on authorities to exercise restraint and transparency in dealing with his jailed supporters. “I expect the law enforcement forces to release the names of martyrs, wounded and arrested,” he said in his statement. “Otherwise, they make the gap between themselves and the people wider.”