IRAN

Court frees Iranian-Canadian journalist on bail

Tehran has freed on bail Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was arrested during violent post-election protests in June, the judiciary has confirmed.

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REUTERS - Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, arrested after Iran's disputed election in June, has been freed on bail, the judiciary said on Saturday. 

"Bahari was released on 3 billion rials ($300,000) bail from Evin prison on Saturday night," the semi-official ILNA news agency quoted a judiciary source as saying. 

Iran's state television confirmed Bahari's release, quoting a judiciary statement. The report did not make it clear whether Bahari could leave the country. 

Bahari, who has worked for Newsweek magazine since 1998, was arrested on June 21 in Tehran while covering the election and subsequent unrest. He was charged later with espionage and could face execution if convicted. 

Opposition leaders say the election was rigged to secure the re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iranian authorities have denied the allegation. 

The election and its turbulent aftermath plunged Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the country's 1979 Islamic revolution. 

The opposition says more than 70 people were killed in the unrest, more than double the official estimate. 

Rights groups say thousands of people were detained after the vote. More than 100 people, including former senior officials, still remain in jail. 

"Velvet revolution"

Hardliners have portrayed the street protests as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic state's clerical establishment through a "soft" or "velvet revolution" with the help of intellectuals and others inside Iran. 

Bahari was put on trial along with dozens of detained reformists on June 30. After the trial, Bahari spoke to journalists saying foreign media had a role in fomenting a "velvet revolution" to topple the clerical establishment. 

Iranian moderates have denounced the mass trials as a "sham", saying confessions under pressure had "no value".

Bahari had urged Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's most powerful figure, to forgive him. 

Canada had said the spying charge against Bahari was baseless and had demanded his immediate release. 

Tehran does not recognise dual nationality and told Canada not to interfere. 

Iran denies Western allegations that it is trying to stifle dissent by arresting elites, including senior moderate politicians, activist students, lawyers and journalists. The government says it welcomes constructive criticism and upholds the principle of free speech. 

Last week a court sentenced three people to death over post-election unrest and links to exiled opposition groups. It was the first official statement of death sentences in connection with the poll. The three have 20 days to appeal.

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