- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 3, 2009

CAIRO | A doctor who exposed the torture of jailed protesters in Iran died of poisoning from an overdose of a blood pressure drug in a salad, prosecutors say. The findings fueled opposition fears that he was killed because of what he knew.

Investigators are still trying to determine whether his death was a suicide or murder, Tehran’s public prosecutor Abbas Dowlatabadi said, according to the state news agency IRNA.

The doctor, Ramin Pourandarjani, 26, died Nov. 10 in mysterious circumstances - with authorities initially saying he was in a car accident and later saying he had a heart attack or committed suicide.

Pourandarjani was a doctor at Kahrizak, a prison on Tehran’s outskirts where hundreds of opposition protesters were taken after being arrested in the crackdown following June’s disputed presidential elections. The facility became so notorious that it was ordered shut down by Iran’s supreme leader as reports of abuse and torture became an embarrassment to the clerical rulers and security forces.

Pourandarjani testified before a parliamentary committee and reportedly told the committee members that one young protester he treated died from heavy torture.

The young physician died from an overdose of propranolol in a delivery salad, Mr. Dowlatabadi said Tuesday. Propranolol is used to treat high blood pressure, rapid heart rate and tremors, and can be lethal in high doses.

Investigators questioned the restaurant delivery man but he was not under arrest, Mr. Dowlatabadi said. The delivery man said he gave the salad directly to Pourandarjani, describing how the doctor took it from him at the door of his room, then closed the door. The report did not say where the doctor was at the time.

The doctor’s father, Reza-Qoli Pourandarjani, told the Associated Press last month that he didn’t believe any of the causes given so far by the government in his son’s death. But he didn’t go as far as accusing anyone of killing him.

“Just the night before his death, my child talked to me on the phone, it was around 8 or 9 p.m. He sounded great, very dignified, displaying no sign of someone about to commit suicide,” he said from his home in Tabriz in northwestern Iran.

The next day, the elder Mr. Pourandarjani received a call from the commander of Tehran’s security forces informing him that his son was in a car accident with a broken leg and needed his consent to have surgery.

When he traveled to Tehran, “we found out that that wasn’t the case,” the father said.

Several opposition Web sites raised concerns that Pourandarjani was killed because he knew the conditions of a number of torture victims at Kahrizak, including 24-year-old Mohsen Rouhalamini, the son of a prominent conservative figure. Rouhalamini’s death in late July was the main factor raising anger among government supporters over the abuse.

Forensic tests showed that the doctor died of “poisoning by drugs” that matched the propranolol found in the salad, Mr. Dowlatabadi said. “A large number of these pills must be used for a person to pass away from them,” he said.

Last week, Iran’s top police commander, Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, insisted the death was a suicide.

One pro-reform lawmaker dismissed the claims and suggested a link to the torture at the prison.

“It is impossible to accuse him of suicide,” said Masood Pezeshkian, the pro-opposition Web site Roozonline reported Wednesday.

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