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Former Iran Cemetery Head Denies 'Mass Burial' Rumor

A reformist website says dozens of victims of postelection unrest were buried in unnamed graves in Behesht Zahra cemetery.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- A former head of Tehran's largest cemetery has said no mass burial had ever taken place there, after a parliamentary deputy said a committee was looking into rumors that protesters killed during demonstrations had been buried at the site.

"Never has a mass burial...happened in Behesht Zahra," the official IRNA news agency quoted Mahmud Rezaian as saying. He said he had recently retired as head of the cemetery but that he remains a managing board member, IRNA reported.

On August 25, member of parliament Hamidreza Katouzian said a parliamentary committee set up by the assembly to examine events after the disputed June presidential election was investigating the "rumor" about Behesht Zahra south of Tehran.

The reformist website said last week that "tens" of people were buried in unnamed graves in the cemetery on July 12 and 15 -- about a month after the election, which sparked widespread street protests. Norooz did not identify those who were buried or say how they died.

"Parliament is investigating a rumor about a mass burial of postvote detainees," IRNA quoted Katouzian as saying on August 25. "We cannot deny or confirm the case at the current time and if it is needed we will visit Behesht Zahra."

Rezaian, who also denied a newspaper report he had been sacked, said part of the section of the cemetery referred to in in the report, 302, was used to bury unidentified people who were killed in car accidents or by drug overdose.

"They are buried with respect to all legal and religious customs," Rezaian said. "All those buried in section 302...have medical documents from the coroner's office or related hospitals and these documents are [publicly] available."

The losing candidates say 69 people were killed in the unrest that erupted after the June 12 election, which they say was rigged in favor of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

The poll and its turbulent aftermath have plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and exposed deepening divisions within the ruling elite.

Thousands of people were arrested during widespread street unrest after the vote. At least 200 people remain in jail, including senior moderate politicians, activists, lawyers, and journalists.