"Butcher Of The Press" To Probe Iran Protesters

(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Reports that Iran's ruling regime has put the country's most feared, hard-line prosecutor in charge of interrogating arrested protesters and journalists have raised the ire of human rights groups and the Canadian government.

Saeed Mortazavi, Tehran's prosecutor-general since 2003 and a judge previously, has been implicated by several inquiries in the death that year of a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist who was arrested, tortured and then killed in custody.

"We are deeply concerned by reports that Saaed Mortazavi has been put in charge of the investigation of detained reformist leaders and party officials in Iran," Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Thursday, according to a report in The Canadian Press.

Those concerns will likely be compounded by remarks made during Friday prayers in Tehran by one of Iran's senior clerics. Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Ahmad Khatami warned those behind the recent unrest that they were in violation of Islamic law, and he urged the Judiciary branch to deal with them harshly.

"I call on the officials of the Judicial Branch to deal severely and ruthlessly with the leaders of the agitations whose fodder comes from America and Israel, so that everyone learns a lesson from it," said Khatami, who is a member of the powerful Assembly of Experts.

Mortazavi has earned a reputation in Iran as the "butcher of the press" for shutting down more than 100 newspapers and blogs deemed a threat to the regime.

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

The Times also reports that Mortazavi was allegedly behind the arrest and three-month detention of American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi earlier this year. Saberi was released and returned home to her family in North Dakota about three weeks ago.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.