Iran ex-prosecutor denies wrongdoing in death by torture of 3 protesters in prison

By Nasser Karimi, AP
Sunday, January 17, 2010

Iran ex-prosecutor denies role in torture deaths

TEHRAN, Iran — Tehran’s former chief prosecutor on Sunday rejected a parliamentary report blaming him in part for the torture and deaths of at least three anti-government protesters during the turmoil after June’s disputed presidential election.

Saeed Mortazavi said the parliamentary report contained “mistakes and deficiencies” and let the media implicate him. He also accused lawmakers of showing sympathy for a “bunch of hooligans.”

The head of the parliamentary committee that probed the prisoners’ abuse stood by the report and called for Mortazavi’s prosecution.

“A trial needs to be held to investigate the issue, and Mr. Mortazavi has to present his claims in court,” lawmaker Parviz Sorori was quoted by the semi-official Mehr news agency as saying Sunday. The probe was carried out on the “basis of documents that are available and undeniable,” added the conservative Sorori.

After months of denials, Iran’s judiciary acknowledged last month that three detainees swept up in the crackdown on opposition supporters after the June election were beaten to death by their jailers. That confirmed one of the opposition’s most devastating claims against authorities and the elite Revolutionary Guard forces that led the crackdown.

Anger over the abuse charges, which first emerged in August, extended far beyond the reformist camp, with influential conservative figures in the clerical hierarchy condemning the mistreatment of detainees.

Iran’s judiciary has charged 12 officials at Kahrizak prison — a facility on Tehran’s outskirts where much of the prisoner abuse took place — but has not charged Mortazavi.

As Tehran city prosecutor, Mortazavi was responsible for monitoring Kahrizak prison and reportedly led interrogations of dozens of pro-reform activists arrested and prosecuted after the June vote.

The parliamentary report made public last week said Mortazavi ordered that detained protesters be taken to Kahrizak, which government officials have said was only meant for dangerous criminals and troublemakers. The report found that protesters, including students, also were taken there.

The former prosecutor Sunday denied issuing the order, saying other judiciary officials did,

Mortazavi has claimed that the three detainees died from meningitis. However, judiciary officials and the parliamentary report concluded that the “deaths of the three were the result of four days in custody, suffering from beatings in a place without proper food, water or health conditions.”

Mortazavi, who now heads a government body tasked with fighting the smuggling of goods, is the highest-ranking official to be implicated in the case of prisoners’ abusem but there is still no indication of whether he could be prosecuted.

In a letter addressed to parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, Mortazavi accused lawmakers of showing sympathy for a “bunch of hooligans.”

“The (parliamentary) report … was ambiguous and contained mistakes that paved the way for propaganda misuse,” he wrote. Lawmakers, he said, should support and defend “special judges who spared no efforts, at (this) time of sedition and conspiracy by moharebs (those corrupt on earth) and enemies of the sacred system of the Islamic republic, to foil these riots.”

Mortazavi’s letter was reported by state media Sunday.

One of the detainees who died in custody was the son of Abdolhossein Rouhalamini, a senior aide to conservative presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei. Rouhalamini’s death in July, two weeks after he was arrested, sparked anger even among government supporters.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, ordered the immediate closure of Kahrizak in July. That came after reports of beatings and inhumane treatment emerged from there.

Mortazavi is detested by those pushing for social and political reforms. Critics have dubbed him the “butcher of the press” and “torturer of Tehran” because he was behind the closure of some 120 newspapers and the jailing of many journalists and political activists over the past decade.

Mortazavi has also been blamed by the Canadian government for the death in custody of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in 2003. Iranian reformists accused Mortazavi of trying to stage a cover-up because it was he who reported that Kazemi died of a stroke.

A government committee probing her death later found that she had died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage from a blow to the head. No charges were filed against Mortazavi.

The postelection unrest has presented Iran’s clerical leaders with the worst internal challenge since they took power in the 1979 revolution that toppled the shah.

In an effort to intensify pressures on the opposition, Iran’s judiciary has put on mass trial over 100 pro-reform activists since August on charges of fomenting unrest.

An Iranian opposition Web site, Norooznews, reported Sunday that a court has sentenced prominent former lawmaker Mohsen Safai Farahani, one of those standing trial, to six years in prison.

Farahani was sentenced to jail because of his opposition to the results of the June vote, the Web site said. The report did not give the specific charge on which he was convicted. Farhani, 61, served in parliament from 2000-2004 and led the country’s soccer federation in 1997-2005.

The court has so far sentenced five people to death and handed down more than 80 prison sentences ranging from six months to 15 years.

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