Saeed Hajjarian was a die-hard hero of Iran's opposition movement, campaigning to reduce the power of the Islamic clerics even after being shot in the head in an assassination attempt that left him partially paralyzed.
On Tuesday, he was brought into a courtroom propped up by men who put him in the front row of defendants in Iran's biggest political trial in decades, where he proceeded to renounce his entire career as a reformist.
His speech slurred and nearly unintelligible from the 2000 attack, Hajjarian had a statement read proclaiming that Iran's supreme leader represents the rule of God on Earth and asking for forgiveness for his "incorrect" ideas.
The stunning confession was among the most dramatic in the trial of more than 100 reform leaders and protesters arrested in Iran's post-election crackdown — testimony the opposition says was coerced by threats and mistreatment during weeks of solitary confinement.
A procession of the biggest names in the reform movement has taken the stand during the past month, some looking thin and tired, all dressed in blue pajama-like prison uniforms and slippers. They have confessed to taking part in what the government says was a plot backed by foreign enemies to overthrow Iran's clerical leadership in a "velvet revolution."
Spreading 'Marxist thought'
The opposition has compared the proceedings to Josef Stalin's "show trials" against his opponents in the Soviet Union, saying the government is trying to wipe out the reform movement.
Hajjarian's turn in court perhaps more resembled a scene from China's Cultural Revolution, as he repented of the pro-reform ideology he has espoused for years.
In a statement read by a fellow defendant, he confessed to trying to spread "Marxist thought" that "has no relation to Iran." He said he had led astray his political party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, with his ideas and announced his resignation from the party.
He threw his support behind Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose rule "springs from the rule of the Prophet Muhammad."
"I've committed grave mistakes by offering incorrect analysis during the election," Hajjarian said. "I apologize to the dear Iranian nation because of my incorrect analyses that was the basis for many wrong actions."
The Islamic Iran Participation Front dismissed the confessions by Hajjarian and other party leaders as forced, saying: "What is uttered from their tongue today is not by their will."
The 55-year-old Hajjarian was arrested soon after mass protests erupted over the disputed June 12 presidential election, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets claiming that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory was fraudulent. Held for weeks in a secret location with no contact with lawyers or family, the opposition repeatedly expressed concern over his health in custody.
A top architect of the pro-democracy movement, Hajjarian was a senior aide to former President Mohammad Khatami, helping to design a program of social and political liberalization during Khatami's 1997-2005 administration — policies that were ultimately stymied by hard-line clerics who dominate Iran's Islamic republic system.
Hajjarian was among the radical students who seized the U.S. Embassy during the height of the 1979 Islamic revolution and held American diplomats hostage for 444 days. He later helped build the Islamic republic's Intelligence Ministry, rising to high rank in the ministry.
But in the 1990s, Hajjarian became disillusioned with the clerical leadership and began to speak out for freedom of expression and political reform. He called for limiting Khamenei's powers and formulated a reform strategy of "pressure from the bottom, bargaining at the top" — rallying the public in favor of change while pressing demands within the halls of power.
In the 2000 assassination attempt, gunmen believed linked to hard-liners shot Hajjarian in the head at close range and the bullet passed through his cheek, lodging in his throat. For years, he had to use a wheelchair, though he can now stand with a walker or support from others. His speech remains impaired from a stroke he had after the attack.
'Full punishment' urged
During Tuesday's session, the prosecutor called for Hajjarian's party to be dissolved and urged "full punishment" against Hajjarian, though officials have not said what the maximum sentence would entail.
Many of those on trial held key positions in Khatami's government and now hold prominent positions in reform parties. Hard-line clerics and politicians have pushed for the arrest of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims to have won the June election, and his ally Mahdi Karroubi, who also ran in the election.
Among the defendants who appeared Tuesday was Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American academic charged with espionage, contact with foreign elements and acting against national security.
Tajbakhsh appeared to try to speak broadly about foreign interference in Iran, telling the court that "undeniably this was a goal of the U.S. and European countries to bring change inside Iran" and that "the root cause of the riots are found outside the borders."
But, he added: "Since I've had no contacts with any headquarters inside and outside the country, I have no evidence to prove foreign interference," the state news agency IRNA said.
In a rare show of defiance, another defendant, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, said he opposed Ahmadinejad's government and rejected the court's indictment.
"As a reformer, my position is clear," said Ramezanzadeh, a prominent figure in Hajjarian's party. "I've put forward my views in my speeches and I won't change my views."
Dozens of relatives of the defendants protested outside the court building during the session until they were dispersed by police and plainclothes pro-government vigilantes, the pro-opposition Web site Norooz reported.