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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Saeed Mortazavi: butcher of the press - and torturer of Tehran?









































Saeed Mortazavi: butcher of the press - and torturer of Tehran?

Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Times

Jenny Booth and James Hider

ImageThe Iranian regime has appointed one of its most feared prosecutors to interrogate reformists arrested during demonstrations, prompting fears of a brutal crackdown against dissent.

Relatives of several detained protesters have confirmed that the interrogation of prisoners is now being headed by Saaed Mortazavi, a figure known in Iran as “the butcher of the press”. He gained notoriety for his role in the death of a Canadian-Iranian photographer who was tortured, beaten and raped during her detention in 2003.

“The leading role of Saeed Mortazavi in the crackdown in Tehran should set off alarm bells for anyone familiar with his record,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch.

As prosecutor-general of Tehran since 2003 and as a judge before that, he ordered the closure of more than 100 newspapers, journals and websites deemed hostile to the Establishment. In 2004 he was behind the detention of more than 20 bloggers and journalists, who were held for long periods of solitary confinement in secret prisons, where they were allegedly coerced into signing false confessions.

Mr Mortazavi has also led a crackdown in Tehran that has seen women arrested for wearing supposedly immodest clothing.

Earlier this year he oversaw the arrest and trial of Roxana Saberi, the American-Iranian journalist sentenced to eight years for spying, and his name has appeared on the arrest warrants of prominent reformists rounded up since the unrest started, such as Saeed Hajarian, a close aide of Mohammad Khatami, the reformist former President. With more than 600 people now having been arrested, including dozens of journalists, many fear the worst.

Mr Mortazavi became notorious for his role in the death of Zahra Kazemi while in Iranian custody on July 11, 2003. Kazemi, a freelance photojournalist with dual Iranian-Canadian nationality, was arrested while taking photographs outside Evin prison, Tehran, during an earlier period of reformist unrest in the city, also ruthlessly repressed.

The first news of what happened to Kazemi, 54, came in a statement from Mr Mortazavi, which said that she had died accidentally of a stroke while being interrogated.

Two days later a contradictory statement was issued, saying that she had fallen and hit her head.

On July 16 Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the Vice-President, admitted that Kazemi had died of a fractured skull after being beaten.

Mr Abtahi, who is no longer in office, was also arrested in the round-up of hundreds of dissidents and reformists overseen by Mr Mortazavi last week.

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