August 30, 2009 in Nation/World

Iran judiciary fires hard-line prosecutor

Move comes as disagreements surface over political trials
Thomas Erdbrink Washington Post

TEHRAN, Iran – The new head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, fired the main prosecutor in the trials of dozens of opposition figures accused of plotting to overthrow the country’s leadership, the semiofficial ISNA agency reported Saturday.

Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi had built a case based on confessions and intended to prove that senior aides of the defeated candidates in the June 12 presidential election were involved in a foreign-backed plot to bring down the leaders of the Islamic Republic.

The opposition says that the election was rigged and that the confessions were coerced.

Mortazavi was replaced by Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, who is known to be less ideological than his predecessor, according to lawyers defending several high-profile defendants.

“I hope the court will now free the accused,” said Saleh Nikbakth, who is defending six prominent politicians, including former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi. “Mortazavi was the judicial cover for the arrests. He issued the warrants three days before the elections.”

The dismissal was Larijani’s first important move since his appointment by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei two weeks ago, and it appears to signal that he is trying to follow a course independent of the government.

“This is a good start, but he must make more replacements in order to make the people feel safe,” said Abdolfattah Soltani, a human rights lawyer.

Recent statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Khamenei indicate that they disagree on the case, which opposition members say is an attempt to purge the former candidates from Iran’s political system.

On Friday, Ahmadinejad publicly joined members of the powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps, hard-line lawmakers and Friday prayer leaders in demanding “severe punishment” for former candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

A day earlier, Khamenei said in a speech he had not seen enough evidence to label the two men, whom he did not refer to by name, as foreign agents. His stance undermined Mortazavi’s case, which is based on allegations that the defendants are linked to the U.S. and British governments.

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