TEHRAN - Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi has accused hardliners of using Inquisition-style methods to clamp down on reformers after the Islamic Republic's disputed election in June.

He made the comment during a meeting with pro-reform cleric Mehdi Karoubi, the Etemad newspaper reported on Monday.

It seems some people are trying to take us back to the Inquisition era, Mousavi said in Saturday's meeting, referring to the holding of mass trials, the closure of pro-reform newspapers and restrictions on political parties, it reported.

The Inquisition -- a tribunal of the Catholic Church which used imprisonment and torture -- reached its height in the 16th century to counter the Reformation in Europe.

Mousavi and Karoubi, who finished second and fourth respectively, say the June 12 poll was rigged to secure hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election.

The authorities have rejected the allegations and in August began a series of mass trials of at least 100 people accused of fomenting the huge opposition protests that erupted in the days after the election. Those in the dock include former government officials, journalists, lawyers and others.

Ahmadinejad's allies 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.

What was proven during these trials? ... What are they seeking by using the terms of soft threats and overthrowing and other academic issues which must be discussed in the universities not in a court session? Mousavi said.

Reformist former President Mohammad Khatami, who backed Mousavi in the election, has said confessions made at the trials were obtained under extraordinary conditions and were invalid.

Analysts see the mass trials as an attempt by the authorities to uproot the moderate opposition.
The June election plunged Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, when the U.S.-backed shah was toppled. The opposition says more than 70 people were killed in the unrest, more than double the official estimate.

On Saturday, Iran's ISNA news agency said a court had 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.

Mousavi also criticised state broadcaster for biased reporting: Mr Karoubi and I were not able to defend ourselves even for three minutes there, he said.

(Reporting by Reza Derakhshi; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Jon Hemming)