Iranian inquiry faults prosecutor in protesters' deaths

Saeed Mortazavi asserted that the three protesters had died of meningitis.
Saeed Mortazavi asserted that the three protesters had died of meningitis. (Vahid Salemi - AP)
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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 11, 2010

TEHRAN -- An Iranian parliamentary probe has singled out a former Tehran prosecutor as being responsible for the violent deaths of three protesters in a now-closed prison facility after anti-government demonstrations in July.

The report read in parliament on Sunday focused on Saeed Mortazavi, a former hard-line judge and prosecutor, who said the three prisoners died in Kahrizak prison because of an outbreak of meningitis. But the parliament investigation found that the prisoners, including the son of a top political aide, died because of beatings and the ignorance of security officers. "There was no instance of meningitis," the report said.

It harshly criticized Iran's judiciary for mistreatment of prisoners in Kahrizak, south of Tehran, where at least 147 prisoners were kept in a 70-square-meter, metal-roofed room during the height of summer. Security personnel have beaten and verbally abused several of them, the report states.

In July, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the facility closed, saying it was substandard. According to the report, Mortazavi told the commission that circumstances in the prison were good and that there was no other place to keep the prisoners, whereas the head of Tehran's main prison, Evin, stated that he had room for more detainees at the time. In August, Mortazavi was reassigned to a much less prominent position within the judiciary.

The commission called for compensation for the people held in the facility and called for "all responsible, whether judicial, police or officials, to be seriously dealt with, without any considerations, caring for the respect of the system."

In the turmoil after the disputed June election, thousands of anti-government protesters were arrested, including more than a hundred prominent opposition politicians, dissidents and journalists. Dozens died in the protests. Most detainees were released, but many of the prominent ones have gotten jail time averaging five years.

Mortazavi, who was responsible for closing dozens of newspapers critical of the government, was appointed on Saturday by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the head of the committee for combating goods and currency smuggling.

"Mortazavi is the highest official the parliament could accuse without getting in trouble," said Abbas Abdi, a former journalist whose papers were closed by Mortazavi and who is critical of the government. "If they would go after lower-level officials, their probe would have been meaningless." It is now up to the judiciary to press official charges against the former prosecutor.

Some lawmakers, critical of the government, called the report incomplete. They said the committee did not address several other instances of alleged abuse by security forces and the death of a doctor working in Kahrizak.

On Saturday, Khamenei asked members of the basij paramilitary militia, which supports the government, to refrain from taking the law into their own hands, promising that judicial authorities would deal with anti-government protesters.

Government supporters have been calling for the death of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and their followers after anti-government protests during the religious holiday of Ashura on Dec. 27 led to clashes between demonstrators and riot police.

The opposition Web site Rahesabz said on Wednesday that more than 180 people, including 17 journalists, 10 Mousavi aides and some members of the outlawed Baha'i faith, were arrested after the Dec. 27 protests.

Separately, an opposition Web site on Sunday said about 30 "mourning mothers," with children who were killed or disappeared during the post-election unrest, were arrested in a Tehran park on Saturday and were taken to a detention center in the capital.

The mothers gather in Tehran's Laleh park every Saturday, the Kaleme Web site said. The report could not be independently verified.

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