Iranian ex-prosecutor could face trial in prison killings
TEHRAN -- A former Iranian prosecutor who for years was responsible for jailing dissidents and opposition members in the Islamic republic could now be taken to court over the 2009 killings of three opposition activists in a substandard prison, an attorney for one of the victims' families said Monday.
Former Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi was already connected by a parliamentary investigation to the July 2009 deaths in the Kahrizak detention facility, but he had judicial immunity and could not be put on trial. On Sunday, Iranian media reported that three top judicial officials had been suspended over the case, but the semi-official Mehr news agency did not mention any names.
"Mortazavi is among them, and now that he no longer has judicial immunity, he could face trial," the attorney, Saleh Nikbakht, said in an interview. Opposition media also reported that Mortazavi is one of the three suspended top officials. "Many people have charges against him," said Nikbakht, a well-known human rights lawyer.
Mortazavi's notoriety came about because he handled nearly all the sensitive cases against dissidents, journalists and activists in the past 10 years. Many saw him as the executive arm of a hard-line political movement that has used last year's crackdown of anti-government protests to gain considerable influence. A trial against Mortazavi could prove to be dangerous for many high-ranking Iranian officials who have had close relationships with him.
In August 2009, the head of Iran's judiciary demoted Mortazavi to the less influential position of deputy prosecutor general, a post shared with six others.
But in a sign that Mortazavi can still count on political support, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad installed the former prosecutor as the head of an anti-smuggling committee -- immediately after the publication of the parliamentary report connecting him to the Kahrizak killings.
"His actions have been so foul that the system had become afraid of what it had created by giving him this power and creating a place like Kahrizak," said analyst and former activist Abbas Abdi, who like many other dissidents had been sentenced to long prison terms by Mortazavi. "His supporters are the real culprits here."
Authorities said the prisoners died after meningitis broke out in the overcrowded facility. But in July, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered Kahrizak closed because of "substandard conditions." In July, two prison guards were sentenced to death for their involvement, but their cases are awaiting appeal, and their names are being kept secret.
Iran's leaders have used the investigation into the prison killings -- one of the victims was the son of a top official -- to show the transparency of the country's judicial system. But opposition and human rights activists say that many other cases of prison abuse, after months of opposition street protests and thousands of arrests, have not been investigated.