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Ex-Tehran Prosecutor Rejects Postvote Abuse Report

Saeed Mortazavi has come under criticism from the Iranian parliament.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Tehran's former chief prosecutor has rejected parliamentary criticism of his role in the alleged mistreatment of people detained after Iran's election last year, accusing MPs of showing sympathy for a "bunch of hooligans."

Members of a parliamentary investigative committee hit back at Saeed Mortazavi, an ally of hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and defended the findings in a critical report it issued last week about the treatment of postvote detainees.

The committee blamed Mortazavi for ordering the transfer of 147 people, arrested during widespread unrest that erupted after the disputed June poll, to Tehran's Kahrizak jail despite a lack of space there. Three detainees at Kahrizak later died.

"Those who were transferred to Kahrizak were not hooligans...They were just a group of youth and university students who were protesting at the country's situation," conservative MP Zohreh Elahian told the semi-official Mehr News Agency.

The exchange was a further sign of widening establishment divisions in the Islamic republic exposed by the election, which the pro-reform opposition says was rigged to secure Ahmadinejad's reelection.

The authorities have denied the charge of vote fraud and portrayed the huge opposition protests that followed the vote as a foreign-backed bid to undermine Iran's clerical leadership.

In rare official criticism over the treatment of detained opposition supporters, the parliamentary committee's report said the group of 147 detainees was kept for several days in a room of just 70 square meters at Kahrizak.

It rejected the initial claim by officials, including Mortezavi, that the three deaths were caused by meningitis and instead cited factors such as poor sanitary conditions and nutrition, as well as beatings.

"Undeniable Documents"

Kahrizak was closed in July on the orders of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after the deaths of three detainees.

Last month, Iranian media said the judiciary had charged three Kahrizak officials with their murder.

Mehr said Mortazavi, in a letter to parliament speaker Ali Larijani, denied any links with what the news agency described as "the crimes" that took place at Kahrizak.

"The investigative committee stressed its sympathy with a bunch of hooligans who endangered people's security during the riots...but said nothing about the security and police forces who were injured and hospitalized," Mortazavi wrote.

Mortazavi said his office had been told by Kahrizak officials that they had space for up to 400 new prisoners.

"The report was incomplete and had some mistakes," he added in the letter, which was also carried by other Iranian media.

But another member of the investigative committee, Parviz Sarvari, said its report was based on "undeniable documents which still exist." The committee numbers at least six members, both reformers and conservatives, in the 290-seat assembly.

"The case should be studied in court...and Mr. Mortazavi should present his own documents as well," Sarvari said.

Mortazavi, a hard-liner who played a key role in mass trials of leading reformers after the election, was replaced as Tehran prosecutor in August and named Iran's deputy prosecutor-general.

Ahmadinejad has since appointed him as the head of a state body fighting smuggling of drugs and other items.

Last year's election sparked Iran's biggest unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and also further strained relations with Western powers already at odds with Tehran over its nuclear program.

Thousands of people protesting against the conduct of the vote were arrested and some were beaten in detention. Most of them have since been released, though more than 80 people have received jail sentences of up to 15 years.