Iran court acquits moderate of espionage

Backers of hard-line president blast move, escalating infighting among top leadership

November 28, 2007|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Iran's judiciary acquitted a moderate former government official of espionage charges yesterday, prompting vehement criticism by supporters of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and escalating the infighting within Iran's leadership.

Authorities had charged Hossein Mousavian, Iran's former nuclear negotiator and confidant of pragmatist cleric Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, with divulging state secrets to foreign countries this year. But the judiciary announced that the Revolutionary Court was clearing him of a pair of espionage charges, while convicting him of a far lesser charge of propagating against the system, a security charge often handed to journalists.

Many analysts in Iran viewed the initial charges as an attempt by Ahmadinejad's circle to tarnish the camp of his rival, Rafsanjani, ahead of critical March 2008 parliamentary elections.

Ahmadinejad's clique of hard-liners fear that relative moderates such as Rafsanjani and Judiciary chief Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi will team up with reformists such as former President Mohammad Khatami to strip them of their parliamentary majority.

Mousavian's acquittal prompted the anger of hard-liners. Basiji militiamen loyal to Ahmadinejad gathered in front of the judiciary branch headquarters loudly denouncing the decision and accusing Rafsanjani of corruption.

"The spy should be executed," the demonstrators chanted.

"Mousavian has been charged with harming national security through leaking information to the aliens, including the British embassy in Tehran," Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ezhehee, Iran's Minister of Intelligence and Security, told the semi-official Fars News Agency. "From the viewpoint of the intelligence ministry, these charges have been proved."

This acquittal isn't the first time Ahmadinejad's take-no-prisoners style has come under fire from within Iran's conservative leadership.

"One cannot eliminate one's rivals," Hassan Rowhani, a mid-ranking cleric close to Rafsanjani said in remarks published in newspapers last week. "One cannot describe one's rivals as enemies. One cannot lead the country with just three or with ten people."

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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