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Iran jails former vice president, reform activist

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A former Iranian vice president and prominent reform activist convicted of spreading propaganda against the ruling clerical establishment has begun a one-year prison sentence, a close relative said Friday.

An appeals court upheld Hossein Marashi's conviction and sentence on Wednesday, one of many court rulings against activists and opposition figures rounded up in the turmoil triggered by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in June.

The prosecutions have dealt a major blow to a protest movement that was already hard to sustain with security forces delivering a punishing response at each attempt to rally support on the streets.

Earlier this weak, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was Ahmadinejad's main challenger in the election, urged the movement to press on in the next Iranian year, which begins March 21.

Marashi was one of 10 vice presidents under Mohammad Khatami, whose agenda of greater political and social freedoms was largely blocked by hard-liners during his two terms as president, from 1997 to 2005.

Security forces took Marashi into custody on Thursday evening while he was walking in a park near his home, said the relative, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was afraid of government retribution for talking to a journalist about the case.

At the center of his case is an interview Marashi gave to a news Web site last year encouraging people to gather in front of Tehran's Evin prison to protest the detention of political activists.

Marashi, 51, is a relative of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a vehement critic of Ahmadinejad who leads the influential Assembly of Experts, the only group with the authority to dismiss Iran's supreme leader.

Marashi is a spokesman of the liberal Kargozaran political party and supported Mousavi in June's election.

Wednesday's court ruling included a lifelong ban on political activity for Marashi, according to the official news agency, IRNA.

Iranian authorities detained hundreds of political figures and activists during the crackdown on opposition supporters who claimed Ahmadinejad's re-election was fraudulent.

Iran has already handed down verdicts for more than 80 of those on trial, sentencing nine of them to death and the rest to prison terms ranging from six months to 15 years. Most of the cases, including the death sentences, are now in appeals court. As a tradition, authorities have temporarily released some prisoners before the New Year holiday.