By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
TEHRAN, July 27 -- Top Iranian leaders on Monday called for greater protection for opposition demonstrators arrested during this summer's protests after at least three were reported in recent days to have died in custody.
The calls reflect concern, even among Iran's ruling elite, that some of those detained are being mistreated by officials and groups operating under the authority of the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has taken an ever larger role in Iranian affairs since protests over June's disputed presidential election triggered a massive crackdown.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking through his representative on the National Security Council, called Monday for criminal acts to be handled through proper legal channels. Khamenei ordered the closure of a substandard prison facility and reminded officials that "criminal acts should be confronted by government bodies only within the framework of the law and no one can deny the legal rights of any individual," the representative, Saeed Jalili, quoted Khamenei as saying, according to the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency.
Meanwhile, Iran's judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, ordered the Tehran prosecutor to decide within a week the fate of protesters detained after the election, his spokesman told the Mehr News Agency. He also called for the quick release of those who have not committed serious crimes.
The Revolutionary Guard Corps, the 125,000-strong military force that also commands the volunteer Basij militia, took control of Tehran's security in the aftermath of the election. Politicians inside and outside the government have said they believe that the Revolutionary Guard has also taken the lead in handling detained protesters, and that the traditional justice system has been circumvented.
"The police and the Intelligence Ministry have said that they're not at the center of this and are not aware of who is responsible," said Hamid Reza Katouzian, a member of a parliamentary commission researching the arrests, according to the semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency. "Those who've created such a security environment and have been going forward with military force need to be held responsible."
Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated presidential candidate who leads the opposition, echoed those comments Monday. "I'm sure the Justice Ministry cannot and does not have the right to visit many of the prisons," he said, according to Ghalam News, run by his supporters.
He and other protest leaders have asked the Interior Ministry for permission to hold a silent commemoration service Thursday, which marks the 40th day after the violent death of Neda Agha Soltan, whose final moments were captured on video and broadcast around the world. Officials say 20 protesters and seven Basij members were killed during the demonstrations. Human rights groups say the toll was far higher.
Concern for prisoners comes amid shock within Iran's political elite over the death in custody of a protester who was the son of a former top adviser in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government.
Mohsen Rouholamini, a computer programming student who was in his 20s, was arrested July 9 during a large anti-government demonstration. Twelve days later, his family members were told they could pick up his body. Hossein Alaei, a retired Revolutionary Guard commander and friend of the Rouholamini family, wrote a dramatic open letter published on Nowruznews, a Web site close to the opposition, conveying the words of Abdolhussein Rouholamini, the father.
"When I saw his body I noticed that they had crushed his mouth. My son was an honest person. He wouldn't lie. I'm sure that he's given correct answers to anything they'd asked him," the letter said. "They probably couldn't stand his honesty and beat him until he died under torture."