By Andrew Roche
LONDON (Reuters) – Iran hanged two men convicted in the wake of the unrest that erupted after last year’s disputed election, as a top opposition figure predicted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be ousted before the end of his term.
President Barack Obama warned Tehran it faced “growing consequences” over its nuclear program and said international consensus against it was building. Russia said patience with Tehran was running out.
The two men executed at dawn on Thursday were among 11 sentenced to death on charges including “moharebeh” (waging war against God), trying to overthrow the Islamic establishment and membership of armed groups, the student news agency ISNA said.
The June presidential election was followed by huge opposition rallies, plunging Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The opposition says the vote was rigged to secure hard-liner Ahmadinejad’s re-election. The authorities deny it.
Eight people were killed in clashes between opposition supporters and security forces on Ashura, the holy Shi’ite day of ritual mourning, on December 27.
“Following the riots and anti-revolutionary measures in recent months, particularly on the day of Ashura, a Tehran Islamic Revolutionary Court branch considered the cases of a number of accused and handed down the execution sentences against 11 of those,” ISNA said.
“The sentences against two of these people … were carried out today at dawn and the accused were hanged,” ISNA said, adding the sentences had been confirmed by an appeal court.
It named them as Mohammad Reza Alizamani and Arash Rahmanipour. The lawyer for Rahmanipour, 19, said he was detained before the election. She said the charges were political and the verdict “illegal and unjust.”
“An execution with this speed and rush has only one explanation … the government is trying to prevent the expansion of the current (opposition) movement through the spread of fear and intimidation,” lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh said.
In August, the state broadcaster IRIB said Rahmanipour had confessed to links with Western countries and had a mission to plant bombs at election time.
The cases of the other nine are at the appeal stage. ISNA said the charges included membership of two anti-revolutionary groups, including a pro-monarchy association.
Iran’s English-language Press TV said the two put to death were members of the Kingdom Assembly of Iran, which it said was involved in a deadly mosque bombing in Shiraz in 2008.
Iran’s judiciary had previously said more than 80 people had been jailed for up to 15 years over the unrest and five had received death sentences. It was not clear whether they were included in the cases reported on Thursday.
Internet messages have been circulating about new protests on February 11, when Iran marks the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution which toppled the U.S.-backed shah.
Mehdi Karoubi, who came fourth in the election, said in Tehran a weakening economy and popular opposition would lead moderates to remove Ahmadinejad.
“Considering the political and economic problems plus a controversial foreign policy, I personally believe Mr Ahmadinejad would not be able to finish his term,” he said.
Karoubi, 72, told the Financial Times he believed Ahmadinejad’s populist policies had made Iran “too weak” for people to endure further unemployment and inflation.
Solutions ranged from removing Ahmadinejad from office to limiting his powers or reshuffling the cabinet, Karoubi said.
“But knowing this man, I believe he would not change his behavior,” he said.
In his annual State of the Union address, Obama suggested Ahmadinejad’s combative administration was increasingly besieged internationally over a nuclear program the West believes is intended to produce nuclear weapons. Iran denies it.
“The international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated,” he said. “And as Iran’s leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they too, will face growing consequences.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in London after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov there was “growing understanding … that Iran should face consequences for its defiance of international obligations.”
Lavrov stopped short of openly supporting new sanctions.
“It is clear that one can’t wait forever, and our partners are already talking about the need to discuss further measures in the U.N. Security Council,” Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.
Russia’s state arms trader on Thursday declined to say whether it would go ahead with a deal to sell S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Iran, a sore point in Moscow’s relations with the United States and Israel.
In Jerusalem, an Israeli official told Reuters Russia had yet to ship the S-300’s “main systems” — such as radars and interceptor missiles — to Iran.
Defense analysts say the S-300 could help Iran thwart any Israeli or U.S. air attack on its nuclear facilities.