Iran judge hints at jail abuse trials

Conservative bloc backing possible prosecutions

Sadeq Larijani (left) sat with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani at yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony in Tehran. Sadeq Larijani (left) sat with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani at yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony in Tehran. (Hamed Malekpoor/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By Lee Keath
Associated Press / August 18, 2009

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CAIRO - The new head of Iran’s judiciary suggested yesterday that he would prosecute security agents accused of torture in the postelection crackdown, a nod from the country’s conservative leadership to widespread anger to reports that jailed protesters were abused.

Sadeq Larijani was sworn in as head of the powerful judiciary yesterday after being named to the post by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The appointment could be a sign of how Khamenei is seeking balance among factions within the conservative camp, which has seen angry feuds between supporters and critics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Larijani is the brother of Parliament speaker Ali Larijani, who is seen as a top conservative rival of the president. Khamenei has strongly backed Ahmadinejad in the postelection crisis, but at the same time the judiciary appointment suggests the supreme leader wants to keep the sometimes unruly president in check with other conservatives.

The appointment comes amid mounting anger over reports of torture and other abuse against protesters detained in the crackdown that followed the disputed June 12 presidential election. The opposition says at least 69 people were killed in the crackdown, including some who died in prison from beatings and other abuse. The opposition and some clerics have called for those who committed torture to be prosecuted.

Some conservatives have denounced the abuse - a sign that a faction in the conservative camp believes the issue must be addressed to ease public anger. Ali Larijani, for example, ordered a Parliament investigation into detainees’ conditions and while the inquiry did not take strong action, it acknowledged that some abuses occurred.

During his swearing in yesterday, Sadeq Larijani said, “nobody should dare . . . to violate rights or security of citizens,’’ state TV reported.

“I announce that I will not forgive anybody in this regard, and violators will be put on trial,’’ Larijani, 49, said.

So far authorities have taken no public action against any members of the security forces over abuse allegations.

The abuse issue has become an embarrassment to the clerical leadership - to the point of eroding the strong taboo in Iran against directly criticizing the supreme leader, who sits at the top of the religious-political hierarchy and has the final word in all state matters.