Four Iranians have been tried on charges of seeking to overthrow the Iranian government in what Iran is calling a U.S.-financed plot. Iran's judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi said the 4, later identified as including 2 prominent HIV/AIDS physicians who participated in a U.S. Department of State exchange program in 2006, were arrested and tried in Tehran.
The accusation comes as Iran is stepping up a campaign of repression against human rights defenders and other civil society members.
A recent and blatant attack occurred in December and early January, when the regime closed the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi. Security forces raided the Center's offices, confiscating personal documents and a computer. Authorities also permitted protestors chanting death threats to surround Ms. Ebadi's home. Subsequently, one of Ms. Ebadi's assistants at the Center was arrested.
Despite these actions, the group released its quarterly report on human rights violations in Iran. The report said the range of personal freedoms in Iran was shrinking by the day, and cited multiple cases of harassment, arrest, and imprisonment of students, women's rights activists, journalists, and minority rights defenders.
Human Rights Watch, in its recently released annual report, also cited a "dramatic rise in arrests of political activists, academics, and others for peacefully exercising their rights of free expression and association in Iran." In addition, Human Rights Watch noted that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to use the claim of "national security" to crush dissent.
In the wake of the accusation that the United States is conspiring against the regime, the U.S. Department of State issued a statement, saying that "any charge against an Iranian that he or she is working with the United States to overthrow the Iranian government is baseless."
"In the past," noted the Department of State, "Iran has used similar charges to falsely accuse and detain civil society activists and Iranians working to enhance understanding between our two countries. We urge the government of Iran to adhere to international norms by ending its policy of arbitrarily detaining its citizens or using charges of violating national security as a pretext for targeting any Iranian citizen."