TEHRAN, Iran – Iran expanded its mass trial of opposition supporters Sunday, adding 25 more defendants including a Jewish teenager who are accused of involvement in unrest over the disputed presidential election.
The turmoil that erupted after the opposition declared the June 12 vote a fraud has weakened President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and called his legitimacy into question. Nevertheless, he pushed ahead with preparations for his next term by announcing he will nominate three women to join his new Cabinet. If confirmed, they would be Iran's first female ministers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The adding of defendants, which brought the total number to 135, defied international condemnation of the trial many view as a sham. The U.S. labeled it a "show trial" last week and Ahmadinejad fired back with a thinly veiled criticism of President Barack Obama.
"The excellency who talks about change made a big mistake when he openly interfered in Iran's domestic issues," Ahmadinejad told a group of clerics Sunday, according to the semiofficial Mehr news agency.
The defendants in the trial include a former Iranian vice president and other former senior government officials linked to the country's pro-reform movement, French and Iranian-American academics, employees of the British and French embassies, and an Iranian-Canadian reporter for Newsweek magazine. They are charged with plotting a "soft revolution" against the Islamic theocracy and some made public confessions that the opposition charges were coerced.
The trial and official acknowledgments that some detainees have been abused in prison have only added to anger among both opposition supporters and some conservatives over the treatment of protesters.
Syrian President Bashar Assad is expected to visit Iran in the coming days after his country intervened last week to help France win the release of one of the defendants, an Iranian-French employee in its Tehran embassy. France is also hoping to win the release of 24-year-old Clotilde Reiss, a French academic who was among defendants that made public confessions.
The prosecutor opened the third session of the trial with a general indictment of all 25 new defendants, accusing them of plotting the post-election turmoil years in advance, the state news agency reported.
One of the new defendants belongs to Iran's tiny Jewish community. Yaghoghil Shaolian, 19, was quoted by semiofficial Fars news agency as saying he was not an activist and did not even vote. But he said he just got carried away and threw some stones at a bank branch in central Tehran, resulting in his arrest.
Iran's sole Jewish parliamentarian, Siamak Mereh Sedq, confirmed the detention of Shaolian and his Jewish identity to The Associated Press. He said the detention was not connected to his religion.
"He is innocent. We hope to see his release soon based on Islamic mercy," he said.
Shaolian's trial is the first time a Jew has been tried in Iran since 2000 when 13 Jews were charged with spying for Israel. Iran is home to 25,000 Jews, the largest such community in the Middle East outside Israel.
During the trial session, authorities played a film showing attacks on public property, cars and a mosque by protesters.
Ahmadinejad's announcement on women appointees to his Cabinet appeared to be an attempt to enlist the support of Iranian women as he fends off criticism from the opposition and some of his own conservative supporters. But the appointments seem unlikely to appease reformists because the two women he named Sunday are fellow hard-liners.
He said on state television he would appoint Marzieh Vahid Dastgerdi, a 50-year-old gynecologist, as health minister and Fatemeh Ajorlu, a 43-year-old lawmaker, as minister of welfare and social security. He did not name the third woman but said he will nominate at least one more female minister to the Cabinet. Ahmadinejad currently has a female vice president on his Cabinet who is in charge of the environment.
Iran's last female minister, Farrokhroo Parsay, served from 1968 to 1977. She was executed on charges of corruption after the 1979 revolution that brought hard-line Islamists to power.
Every minister has to be approved by parliament — an uncertain prospect given that some lawmakers have criticized Ahmadinejad for not consulting with them prior to making his nominations.
Ahmadinejad also named cleric Haidar Moslehi as the new intelligence minister. Moslehi currently serves as head of the department of endowment and charity affairs.
Ahmadinejad fired the previous intelligence minister, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, in July in an apparent dispute that reportedly included the handling of the clampdown on the unrest.
Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims he was the true election winner, is also consolidating his political forces. According to newspaper reports Sunday, he has announced he will form a new political organization named "The Green Path of Hope" and said it was aimed at regaining people's constitutional rights. Green is the signature color of the opposition movement, adopted from Mousavi's youth-driven election campaign.
At the trial, defendants Mehrdad Aslani accused Mousavi of planting the idea of election fraud in the minds of supporters.
"Mr. Mousavi, do you know there are seats here for you and your friends who were the cause of this plot?" he said.
Mousavi has not been arrested since the unrest began, although some hard-liners have called for him to be put on trial along with other opposition leaders.