- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

TEHRAN | Iran on Tuesday released 140 people detained in the country’s postelection turmoil, and the supreme leader ordered the closure of a prison where human rights groups say jailed protesters were killed, in a nod by authorities to allegations of abuses in the crackdown on protests.

Reform advocates have been contending for weeks that jailed protesters and activists are being held in secret facilities and could be undergoing torture. Authorities appear to be paying greater attention to the complaints since the son of a prominent conservative died in prison - reportedly the same one ordered closed Monday.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi sharply condemned the wave of arrests and deaths, saying the Iranian people “will never forgive them.”

The last official word of the number of people in prison from the crackdown was around 500, announced several weeks ago, and arrests have continued since. The heavy crackdown was launched by police, the elite Revolutionary Guard and the pro-government Basij militia to put down protests that erupted afte the June 12 presidential election, in which hard-line incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner. The opposition has been insisting the vote was fraudulent.

At least 20 people were killed, according to police, though rights groups say the number is likely far higher.

A parliament committee investigating prisoners’ conditions visited Tehran’s main Evin prison Tuesday, and during the visit, 140 detainees connected to the protests were released, said Kazem Jalili, a spokesman for the committee, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Among those freed was Shadi Sadr, a women’s rights activist who was detained during a July 17 protest, her relatives told pro-opposition news Web sites. The names of others who were released were not immediately known.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meanwhile, ordered the closure of the Kahrizak prison on Tehran’s southern outskirts, Mr. Jalali told the Mehr news agency. “It did not possess the required standards to ensure the rights of the detainees,” he said.

Human rights groups have identified at least three protesters they say died after being detained at Kahrizak, though the reports could not be independently confirmed. Kahrizak appeared to have little role as a detention center before the election unrest, but since then, many of the detainees are believed to have spent time there.

Authorities’ new attention to the prisoners issue comes after conservative lawmakers and politicians - the camp from which the government draws its support - expressed anger over the death of the son of Abdolhossein Rouhalamini, a prominent conservative. Mr. Rouhalamini is a close ally of Mohsen Rezai, the only conservative to run against Mr. Ahmadinejad in the election.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly called for detainees’ release, saying the United States is “deeply concerned about all these arbitrary arrests, detentions and harassments that have taken place in Iran, as well as the persistent lack of due process.”

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