GENEVA Western powers are trying to sabotage Iran's presidential election in June but the vote will go ahead and offer a fair choice between reformists and conservatives, a senior Iranian official said on Thursday.
Journalists and others suspected of complicity in a plot to destabilise the Islamic Republic have been arrested and will receive due process, said Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary-general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights.
"The (Iranian) security people discovered that there is a grouping connected to the secret services of a number of European countries - I can name one of them which is Britain's secret service, and they were creating a grouping to do sabotage in the structure of the campaign," Larijani told Reuters.
"Their job was to create an atmosphere of worriedness, which prevents the tranquillity which is needed for competition," he said during a 45-minute interview in English in Iran's mission to the United Nations in Geneva. He offered no proof or details.
The U.N. human rights investigator on Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, said on Tuesday that Tehran's silencing of journalists and opposition leaders could jeopardise the legitimacy of the presidential election in June.
Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, reformist foes of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential vote, have been under house arrest for two years following mass protests over alleged fraud in Ahmadinejad's return to power.
No charges have been laid.
Shaheed and activists have raised concerns about the fate of the two men, but Larijani - speaking to Reuters after a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council - dismissed their importance.
He said the June contest to succeed Ahmadinejad, who is barred from running again after two consecutive terms, will be a "very good election".
"The test of a fair election is not that two persons who are accused of overlooking the law and inciting people to violence be allowed to be part of the election or not," Larijani said.
"Mousavi and Karoubi are not the symbol of the political group of reformists. The leader of the reformers is Mr Khatami, and a number of other reformists will participate as a political faction in this competition. Up to now at least three or four candidates have been named by them."
He was referring to Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad's predecessor as president from 1997 to 2005, a reformist figure who has yet to make clear in what capacity he will participate in the election.
DEFENDS "FAMOUS FAMILY"
Larijani added: "It is like a race: if somebody does not honour the laws of the race, it is possible that he loses the possibility to take part in the next race.
"All the spheres, all spectrums of political life in Iran, are participating and participating enthusiastically."
Analysts say that the successor to Ahmadinejad is likely to be selected from among a handful of top politicians mostly known for loyalty to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Larijani's brother, parliament speaker and former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, one of Ahmadinejad's rivals in his first election in 2005, was expected to be a favourite this time around but Ahmadinejad may have trumped his chances.
Last month, in a first for Iran, the president stirred an uproar by accusing the prominent, powerful Larijani family during a raucous parliamentary session, carried live on state radio, of seeking to use their position for financial gain.
On Thursday, Mohammad Javad Larijani defended his family and said the five Larijani brothers were often maligned in newspapers or websites.
Asked about the corruption allegations, he said: "Definitely, I would reject them. We are a famous family for half a century in Iran. Our family is not connected to financial things. Maybe we do something politically wrong ... But financially I think it is a quite clean family."
Ali Larijani is seen as close to Khamenei.
Taking aim at Ahmadinejad, Mohammad Javad Larijani said: "The way that this dossier was created, I very much regret that it was done by a president. It should be done by journalists, I mean Wikileaks could do that. But not a president. So it is a sad story."
Allegations against any individual should be pursued in a court of law, Larijani said. "But to create a CD and take it to the parliament ... I do not think it is a healthy thing."
"I was a supporter of Ahmadinejad all the way during these years and I'm supporting him for the very good things he did.
"You know, the test of a democracy is you go up the ladder and you come down the ladder as well," he said.
Regarding allegations by Shaheed and rights groups that torture of detainees is rife in Iran, Larijani noted that it was banned by both the constitution and sharia (Islamic law).
"If we have any sign that this happening in these places, the judiciary is very harsh on that, not because Ahmed Shaheed is going to report on that, but because it is against sharia, against Islam, against our law."
Torture occurred elsewhere, he said. "It is happening in Guantanamo, it is happening in the prisons of the UK and France as well.
"The point is how the system reacts. If we discover, for example in Kahrizak prison, four people were killed. So we closed the prison," he said, referring to a detention centre shut in 2009 following the death of several detainees.
"Remember please that (President) Obama promised that Guantanamo would be closed and it was not closed," he added.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)