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Iran: Prosecute Mortazavi for Detention Deaths

Parliamentary Panel Finds Former Prosecutor With History of Rights Abuse Responsible

(Washington DC) - The human rights crimes of a high-ranking judicial official in Iran go far beyond the scope of the parliamentary panel that investigated his role in the abuse of detainees following the June 2009 presidential election, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch urged the Iranian judiciary to remove the official, Saeed Mortazavi, from his post as deputy prosecutor general and to set up an independent commission to investigate his role, and the roles of other high officials, in violations going at least as far back as 2000.

On January 10, 2010, a parliamentary panel investigating detentions after the disputed presidential election determined that Mortazavi was directly responsible for the ill-treatment of detainees in Kahrizak Prison, outside of Tehran, and for the deaths of three detainees there.

"Saeed Mortazavi is a serial human rights abuser and the parliamentary panel showed courage in naming him," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "His unsavory history goes back many years. The Iranian parliamentary panel should expand its inquiry to include Mortazavi's past abuses as well."

The parliament set up the Special Parliamentary Committee to Investigate the Status of Post-Election Arrestees in July to investigate allegations of torture and abuse of detainees arrested in the post-election crackdown. The panel's report says that Mortazavi claimed that his decision to send detainees to Kahrizak stemmed from a lack of space at Evin Prison, in northern Tehran. But authorities at Evin told the panel that their prison had been ready to accept the prisoners. The panel concluded that Mortazavi's decision to transfer protestors to Kahrizak was "not justifiable even if Evin did not have the capacity" to take them.

The panel found that abuse of prisoners in Kahrizak included beatings; verbal abuse and humiliation; lack of appropriate food and drink; lack of ventilation; and severe overcrowding. It held Mortazavi responsible for the deaths of three detainees: Mohsen Ruhal Amini, Amir Javadifar, and Mohammed Kamrani.

Conditions at Kahrizak Prison had led the judiciary to order it closed more than two years ago, but it remained open until July. On July 27, following Amini's death, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei again ordered it closed. Hamid Reza Katouzian, a member of parliament from Tehran who served on an earlier official fact-finding committee looking into attacks on Tehran University dormitories after the election, said in early August that Esameel Ahmadi Moghaddam, chief of Iran's national police, received daily reports about the Kahrizak prison and thus shared responsibility for what happened there.

"There is reason to believe that others share responsibility with Mortazavi for the terrible things that happened in Kahrizak," Stork said.

In addition to his role in sending detainees to Kahrizak, Mortazavi was in charge of investigating detained reformist leaders and party officials in the aftermath of the disputed election.

In April 2000, Mortazavi, then a judge of the Public Court Branch 1410, led a campaign to silence dissent by ordering the closure of more than 100 newspapers and journals. In June 2003, the Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died while in the custody of judiciary and security officers presided over by Mortazavi. Lawyers for her family have alleged that her body showed signs of torture, including blows to the head, and that Mortazavi participated directly in her interrogation.

In 2004, Mortazavi organized the arbitrary detention of more than 20 bloggers and journalists, holding them in secret prisons. Human Rights Watch found that Mortazavi was directly implicated in abuses of these detainees, including holding them in lengthy solitary confinement and coercing them to sign false confessions, some of them televised.

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