updated 9/12/2009 3:16:12 PM ET 2009-09-12T19:16:12

A high-level Iranian judicial panel rejected claims made by a pro-reform presidential candidate that detained protesters were raped and demanded the prosecution of those making the allegations, the official Iranian news agency reported Saturday.

A three-member panel, which included the top prosecutor and the deputy head of the judiciary, was investigating claims by former parliamentary speaker Mahdi Karroubi that protesters detained in the unrest following June elections had been raped by their jailers.

"The panel reached the conclusion that there is no evidence proving the rape of individuals who Karroubi claimed of being raped. These allegations are unsubstantiated ... and documents submitted are totally fabricated and aimed at misleading public opinion," the report as saying.

It also demanded prosecution of those "spreading lies, libel ... and discredit the ruling system" by making such allegations, an indirect reference to Karroubi himself.

The panel's recommendation ratchets up the pressure against Karroubi, whom President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hard-line clerics and commanders of the powerful Revolutionary Guards have already called for to be prosecuted, and paves the way for his possible arrest.

The report also comes a day after Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the country's reformist opposition that it would face a "harsh response" for confronting the ruling system.

Rape allegations reported
Karroubi has said he received reports from former military commanders and freed prisoners that male and female detainees were savagely raped by their jailers to the point of physical and mental damage.

The former parliamentary speaker has also revealed several abuse cases in a challenge to the country's leadership, which has sought to silence such claims in the postelection crackdown.

The abuse allegations have been deeply embarrassing for the Iranian government and the clerical leadership, amid reports that several detainees were tortured to death.

The opposition claims the June 12 election was heavily rigged in Ahmadinejad's favor and that pro-reform challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi was the true winner.

Karroubi and Mousavi have dismissed Ahmadinejad's government as "illegitimate" and vowed to confront the ruling system over the alleged massive vote fraud.

The opposition says at least 72 protesters were killed while Iranian officials have said 36 people died in the postelection turmoil — Iran's worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. About 200 protesters and opposition figures remain in detention.

'Velvet revolution'
Khamenei, who has publicly supported Ahmadinejad over the election, and other hard-liners have attempted to paint the postelection turmoil as a plot by Iran's foreign enemies to overthrow the country's Islamic system through a "velvet revolution."

The government is holding a mass trial of more than 100 detained political activists and protesters who it claims provoked the mass demonstrations.

The opposition counters that the entire ruling system — beyond just Ahmadinejad's elected government — is losing its religious and political legitimacy because of the harshness of the postelection crackdown.

Karroubi said in remarks published Saturday that he believes founder of the 1979 Islamic Republic the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini would have scrapped the results of the June presidential elections if he were alive.

Italian daily La Stampa also quoted him as saying that Khomeini would condemned the "violence and murders" carried out by agents of the ruling system in the postelection turmoil.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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