August 10, 2009 in Nation/World

Iran admits prison abuse

Police chief blames deaths on virus
Ali Akbar Dareini Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s police chief acknowledged Sunday that detained protesters were abused in prison and the country’s top prosecutor said those responsible for the mistreatment should be punished, in unusually pointed criticism of security officials.

But a more hard-line tone came from a senior commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, who called for opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and former President Mohammad Khatami to be put on trial. The two have led protesters who charge the June 12 election was rigged in favor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, the police chief, acknowledged protesters were beaten by their jailers at Kahrizak, the prison on Tehran’s southern outskirts that has been at the center of abuse claims. But he denied abuse was to blame for any deaths, saying prisoners had died of a virus.

“This detention center was built to house dangerous criminals. Housing people related to recent riots caused an outbreak of diseases,” official news agency IRNA quoted Moghaddam as saying.

Iran’s Prosecutor General Ghorban Ali Dorri Najafabadi called for those responsible for mistreating detainees to be punished for “violations and carelessness,” IRNA reported.

He said there was an order not to take protesters to Kahrizak but it was ignored. Human rights groups have identified at least three protesters they say died after being detained at Kahrizak.

Iran’s opposition has seized on claims of abuse at Kahrizak, saying young protesters were tortured to death there. Perhaps more troubling for the government, however, is that some prominent figures in its own conservative support base also say protesters were murdered in prison and demand that those responsible should be brought to trial.

Stories of widespread abuse at Kahrizak prompted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to order its closure last month for substandard conditions. Senior Revolutionary Guard commander Yadollah Javani challenged the judiciary and intelligence officials, asking why they had not arrested Mousavi, Khatami and another reformist presidential candidate, Mahdi Karroubi, and put them on trial.

Javani said the three men have led what he called a “velvet coup.”

Iran has confirmed at least 30 people have died in the worst internal unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Najafabadi said about 200 protesters remain in detention.

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