Iran Shuts Prison after Protester Deaths

Iran's supreme leader ordered the closure of a prison where rights workers say protesters detained in the country's election turmoil have died, officials said Tuesday, as the head of the opposition sharply condemned the wave of arrests.

The order by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was a nod to concerns over the treatment of the hundreds arrested after the disputed June 12 presidential election. Authorities appear to be paying greater attention to the complaints after the son of a prominent conservative figure died in prison - reportedly the same one closed by Khamenei.

Besides the closure of Kahrizak prison, the head of Iran's judiciary promised on Monday that the public prosecutor would review the situation of all the hundreds of postelection detainees within a week and decide whether to release or bring them to trial, the state news agency IRNA reported. Also, a parliament committee investigating detainees' condition is scheduled to visit Tehran's main prison, Evin, on Tuesday, according to IRNA.

At least 500 people remain in prison from the heavy crackdown launched against protests that erupted following the election, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner but which the opposition says was fraudulent. Among those detained are young protesters, as well as prominent pro-reform politicians, rights activists and lawyers.

The opposition has complained for weeks that many of the detainees are being held in secret prisons, have not had contact with their families and have undergone torture to force them to confess to stirring up unrest. At least 20 people were killed, according to police, though rights groups say the number is likely far higher. The crackdown was carried out by police, the elite Revolutionary Guards and the pro-government Basij militia.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims to have won the election, said Monday that amid the disorder of the crackdown, even the judiciary doesn't have access to all the prisoners.

"All departments from intelligence to Basij say (those who arrested protesters) were not related to them. Where are they from? Have they come from the Mars? Who do believe this?" Mousavi said. "I am sure even the judiciary is not able and has no right to visit many prisons and ask for details."

In related developments:

  • The opposition has called for supporters to attend a silent memorial ceremony Thursday for those killed in the crackdown. So far, authorities have not responded to their requests for a permit to gather at a Tehran cemetery - raising the possibility of a confrontation with police if the ceremony is held. The memorial is part of a wider call for a "silent wave" of solidarity across Iran Thursday called for on an opposition Web site. The memorials are planned to coincide with the 40 anniversary of 27-year-old Neda Agha Soltan, who was videotaped death amid the postelection demonstrations fueled opposition protests.
  • President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reportedly found himself the center of negative attention from his backer, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The BBC reports that at least one of the president's cabinet members has resigned over a row sparked by Ahmadinejad's choice for 1st Vice President. Ahmadinejad backed off his choice, a man deemed too friendly toward Israel by Iran's hard-liners, after Khamenei insisted that he be was not suitable. The intelligence minister walked out of his post over the same row, according to the BBC's Jon Leyne.

    Khamenei's order for the prison closure was announced Monday. It was closed because of "illegal pressures on some detainees of the postelection unrest," IRNA reported. As supreme leader, Khamenei has final say in all state matters in Iran.

    On Tuesday, an official with a parliament commission on the detainees, Kazem Jalali, identified the closed prison as Kahrizak, a facility on Tehran's southern outskirts. "It did not possess the required standards to ensure the rights of the detainees," Jilali told the semiofficial Mehr news agency.

    Human rights groups have identified at least three protesters they say died after being detained at Kahrizak, though the reports could not be independently confirmed. Kahrizak appeared to have little role as a detention center before the election unrest, but since then many of the detainees are believed to have spent time there.

    Jalali said parliament speaker Ali Larijani had ordered the commission to investigate the treatment of detainees. "Justice, equity and Islamic behavior must be followed with all detainees, especially students," Larijani told the commission, Jilali said.

    The committee visited two Tehran prisons to investigate conditions on Monday, and is scheduled to visit Evin on Tuesday.

    Authorities' new attention to the prisoners issue comes after conservative lawmakers and politicians - the camp from which the government draws its support - expressed anger over the death of the son of Abdolhossein Rouhalamini, a prominent conservative. Rouhalamini is a close ally of Mohsen Rezai, the only conservative running against Ahmadinejad in the election.

    His son, Mohsen, who was arrested during a July 9 protest, was taken to a hospital after two weeks and died. The opposition news Web site Norooz reported that Mohsen had been held at Kahrizak prison and that his face was beaten in when his father received the body.

    In a speech Monday to a group of teachers, opposition leader Mousavi denounced the arrests and deaths as a "disaster" and suggested it was worse than abuses under the regime of the pro-American shah, who was toppled in the 1979 revolution that established Iran's Islamic Republic.

    "We have not experienced such a thing before the revolution. People will not forgive these acts. How is it possible that someone goes into a prison, then his body comes out," he said.

    He demanded a judiciary investigation in Mohsen Rouhalamini's death. "They will find out what happened. This is not what we expect from the Islamic Republic and the system," he said.