Monday, January 19, 2009

Iran says HIV doctors among US-backed plotters

Iran said on Monday that two doctors jailed since June were among a group convicted of a U.S.-backed plot to overthrow the Islamic republic by creating social upheaval, Fars news agency reported.Iran's judiciary said last Tuesday four people had been detained in connection with a U.S.-funded plot but did not name them."Among the four key elements arrested in this case there were two doctors named Arash and Kamiar Alaei," said the counter-espionage director at Iran's intelligence ministry, who was not named.The intelligence official said the group sought to "incite social crises, organize street rallies and interfere in ethnic issues."
"These people have also committed financial and moral offences as well as security crimes."The European Union in August called for the release of the two brothers, who were known for their pioneering work in HIV/AIDS. The U.S. State Department has also expressed concern.Iran announced last week the group had been sentenced to undisclosed jail terms.State broadcaster IRIB said confessions of those involved in the case would soon be aired, but did not name them. Iran has broadcast confessions in the past from people accused of threatening state security.Iran often accuses the West of seeking to undermine the Islamic state through a "soft" or "velvet revolution" with the help of intellectuals and others inside the country.Western diplomats and human rights groups say Iran has cracked down on dissenting voices since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005. Iran says it allows free speech and denies accusations it violates human rights.The semi-official Mehr News Agency on Saturday said a Tehran court had sentenced to jail a number of people over the allegations of a U.S.-backed plot, but did not give details.
Iran's counter-intelligence head said the arrested were among the network's main agents, "who cooperated with U.S. intelligence agents consciously and intentionally and implemented their demands in detail," Fars reported."This case attracted a number of our countrymen into this U.S. intelligence trap, of whom four have been arrested by the judiciary but of course the real number is in the dozens," Fars quoted the official, whom it did not name, as saying. Under George W. Bush, whose term ends on Jan. 20, the United States has spearheaded a drive to isolate Iran in order to pressure it into halting nuclear work the West suspects is to make bombs. Tehran denies the charge. The New York Times this month said Bush had deflected an Israeli request in 2008 for bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran's nuclear complex, saying he had authorized covert action to sabotage its suspected atomic arms development.Barack Obama who assumes the U.S. presidency on Tuesday, has said he sees Iran as a threat but he is also pledging to increase diplomatic efforts to engage it, in a shift from Bush's approach.