Leading Iranian Dissident Demands Trial by Jury

A top Iranian dissident demanded trial by jury Wednesday, refusing to be tried by one Hardline judge on charges including "acting against state security."

Ebrahim Yazdi, head of the Freedom Movement of Iran (FMI) which advocates the separation of religion and state, is due in court this month where he must answer several other charges including insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"It is impossible to expect justice to be administered at a court where the judge, prosecutor and interrogator are the same person," Yazdi told Reuters.

"According to the constitution, I should be tried in an ordinary open court in the presence of a jury," he added. "I will only attend such a court."

Yazdi, who said he had been interrogated 52 times since April 2002, denies all the charges.

He was a close aide to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual father of the 1979 Islamic revolution, and was a Foreign Minister in the first post-revolutionary government.

The FMI, termed religious nationalists, formed the backbone of the interim government after the revolution. But its moderate politicians were swiftly replaced by radical revolutionaries and Islamic hard-liners.

The conservative judiciary, which outlawed the FMI four years ago, sentenced dozens of members of the movement to 10 years in jail in 2002.

"Thirty-five or 36 members have appealed against their sentences and are waiting for the results," Yazdi said.

Yazdi's lawyers, who include Nobel Peace Price laureate Shirin Ebadi, said they would not attend the one-judge Revolutionary Court.

"We respect our client's decision, so neither Shirin Ebadi nor I will attend the court," one of his lawyers Mohammad Ali Dadkhah said. "We think his decision is legal," he added.

The FMI was sidelined after it opposed the Islamic Republic's more radical acts, such as the seizure of the U.S. embassy in 1979.

It gained more leeway to appeal to students and radical reformers after the election of liberal President Mohammad Khatami in 1997. But hard-liners have accused three of its members of provoking last summer's student protests.