Iran Releases 140 Detainees, Shuts Down Prison

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

TEHRAN, July 28 -- In an apparent response Tuesday to allegations of abuses, Iran freed 140 opposition activists detained during election protests this summer and the country's supreme leader ordered a prison closed because of substandard conditions. The developments followed local news reports that four activists have died in custody in recent days.

However, the Interior Ministry turned down a request by opposition leaders for permission to hold an event commemorating protesters killed in the crackdown after the disputed June 12 presidential election.

The release of the 140 activists from Evin prison, one of Tehran's two main detention facilities, came after a visit by a special parliamentary committee, the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported. Those freed were not named, but the prominent women's rights activist Shadi Sadr was reported to have been among them, released on bail. Sadr was arrested July 17.

The city's other main prison, Kahrizak, was closed after an order Monday by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency. It is unclear whether the detainees there have been transferred or freed.

"Kahrizak is basically a big warehouse. Citizenship rights are not respected there," said Darius Ghanbari, spokesman of the parliamentary faction that is close to the opposition. "Interrogators routinely beat up prisoners. It has none of the necessary standards for a detention center. There are not even toilets. Diseases are rampant."

Lawmaker Kazem Jalali said Kahrizak had been ordered closed because "it did not possess the standards required to ensure the rights of the detainees," Mehr News reported. Jalali was part of the committee that visited Evin prison Tuesday ahead of the detainees' release.

"Of those we visited, there was not even one individual who had any complaints about Evin prison," he told state television.

Jalali said 150 people remain in various detention facilities throughout Iran, along with 50 political figures who are accused of masterminding the recent unrest or of belonging to subversive groups.

Several members of political factions close to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi are still missing, as are well-known artists and journalists, including Maziar Bahari, Newsweek's Tehran correspondent, who was arrested June 21.

Like all other requests for official gatherings by the opposition, a demand for a permit to hold a silent gathering in Tehran's huge Mossala prayer ground Thursday was turned down by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government. Thursday will be the 40th day since the death of Neda Agha Soltan, a 27-year-old fatally shot during a demonstration. Her final moments were captured on cellphone video and broadcast around the world.

Opposition Web sites urged people to attend, anyway, setting up the possibility of further clashes with security forces.

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