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Hardline prosecutor in Iran trial fired

Iran's new judiciary chief has fired the hard-line prosecutor involved in the mass trial of opposition activists charged with seeking to topple the ruling system, state media reported Saturday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Iran's new judiciary chief has fired the hard-line prosecutor involved in the mass trial of opposition activists charged with seeking to topple the ruling system through a "velvet revolution," state media reported Saturday.

Saeed Mortazavi, the Tehran prosecutor, is detested by reformists who call him the "butcher of the press" and "torturer of Tehran" because he was behind the closure of more than 120 newspapers and the imprisonment of dozens of journalists and political activists in the past decade.

His replacement signals a shift toward moderation within Iran's judicial system, which is now under the control of a rival to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

However, the opposition trial — criticized by the opposition and rights activists as a "show trial" — will continue. More than 100 prominent opposition supporters have been on trial since Aug. 1 on accusations of plotting to overthrow the clerical leadership through the protests that followed Ahmadinejad's disputed June 12 re-election.

The protesters claim Ahmadinejad won the vote through fraud and that opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi was the true winner.

The judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, appointed Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi to become the new Tehran prosecutor, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Alleged abuse to be investigated
Larijani also appointed a three-member team to supervise an investigation into the postelection unrest, including the alleged abuse of detained protesters, IRNA reported.

The investigation will include a review of an overnight attack by pro-government vigilantes against students in their Tehran University dormitory and the alleged abuse of prisoners at Kahrizk prison, a facility on Tehran's outskirts where many detained protesters were held and which has been at the center of abuse claims.

Hundreds of protesters and opposition activists were arrested when security forces crushed the mass protests. The opposition says at least 69 people were killed in the crackdown, including some who died from torture in prison.

As Tehran prosecutor, Mortazavi was behind the announcement of false information about the death of an Iranian-Canadian journalist while in police custody in 2003. The hard-line judiciary announced that Zahra Kazemi died of a stroke.

But an investigation ordered by former reformist President Mohammad Khatami later found that Kazemi died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage from a blow to the head.

The allegations of prisoner abuse in the post-election crackdown have rattled not only Ahmadinejad's government but the entire ruling system. In particular, claims by prominent opposition figure Mahdi Karroubi that some detainees have been raped prompted criticism from pro-government conservatives.

On Saturday, the Web site of Karroubi's party was blocked. The Web site has reported extensively on the prisoner abuse claims.