- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2009

TEHRAN | Police and judiciary officials on Sunday sought to calm public outrage in Iran over the deaths of detained protesters in prison, acknowledging abuses and calling for those responsible to be punished.

A senior commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which led the crackdown against the protesters, meanwhile, said the three top opposition figures are the ones who should be put on trial, striking a harder line that suggests tensions at the highest levels of Iran’s power structure.

Iran’s prosecutor general, Ghorban Ali Dorri Najafabadi, called for those responsible for mistreating detainees to be punished, saying the protesters weren’t even meant to be taken to Kahrizak prison, which has been at the center of abuse claims.

“Unfortunately, negligence and carelessness by some officials caused the Kahrizak incident, which is not defendable,” he told the state news agency. “During early days, it is possible there were mistakes and mistreatment due to overcrowding in the prison.”

His comments were followed by police chief Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, who acknowledged that protesters were beaten by their jailers at the same facility and its head has since been arrested along with three guards there and the prison closed down.

However, he maintained that the deaths in the prison were not caused by the abuse.

“This detention center was built to house dangerous criminals. Housing people related to recent riots caused an outbreak of disease,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Gen. Moghaddam as saying. Protesters “died of viral illness and not as a result of beating.”

Anger of the events at Kahrizak has extended far beyond just the reformist camp, with influential figures in the clerical hierarchy condemning the abuse of detainees and the three deaths known to have taken place there.

Conservative lawmaker Hamid Reza Katouzian rejected the police chief’s explanation that illness was to blame for detainee deaths.

“Murders were committed that led to the loss of life of a number of our youth. This has to be probed,” the semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted him as saying in an echo of reformist demands that those involved in the abuse be put on trial.

Mohsen Rezaei, a conservative who ran against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the elections, has led the demands for high-level probes into abuses.

The son of Mr. Rezaei’s top aide, Abdolhossein Rouhalamini, died in detention. He was arrested during a July 9 protest and taken to a hospital two weeks later where he died within hours.

Iran has confirmed at least 30 people have died in the worst internal unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, though human rights groups believe the death toll is probably far higher. Hundreds have been detained.

The criticisms are implicitly aimed at the elite Revolutionary Guard, which operates with some autonomy from the ruling clerics and led the harsh crackdown and detention of protesters in the tense weeks after the election.

A senior guard commander struck back Sunday, challenging the judiciary for not going after the three top opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mahdi Karroubi and former President Mohammad Khatami, who initially led the protests over the June 12 elections on the grounds that they were rigged.

The tensions between the Revolutionary Guard and judicial authorities suggest possible rivalries emerging in the highest levels of Iran’s leadership as it tries to regain balance after the worst internal unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Such internal rifts could pose serious complications for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has previously relied on near seamless unity at the top to enforce policies and control.

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