140 prisoners from Iran election crackdown freed

140 prisoners from Iran election crackdown freed

Iran on Tuesday released 140 people detained in Iran'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, AP reported.

The pro-reform opposition has been contending for weeks that jailed protesters and activists were being held in secret facilities and could be undergoing torture. Authorities appear to be paying greater attention to the complaints after 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 Guards and the pro-government Basij militia to put down protests that erupted following the June 12 presidential election, in which hard-line incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner. The opposition says the vote was fraudulent.

Among those detained are young protesters, as well as prominent pro-reform politicians, rights activists and lawyers. 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 prison Evin on 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 IRNA news agency.

Another 150 remain in prisons throughout Iran and could be released soon, he said. Also detained are 50 "political figures and members of counterrevolutionary or foreign groups who meddled in the riots," he said.

Among those freed was Shadi Sadr, a prominent 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.

It was not clear if Jalili's figure of those still in custody referred only to official prisons or included other facilities where detainees are believed to be held. The opposition has warned repeatedly that the detainees are being tortured to force confessions that back the government's contention that the protests were part of a foreign-backed plot to overthrow the Islamic Republic.

The opposition Web site Mowjcamp reported Tuesday that four prominent detained reformist politicians - Mostafa Tajzadeh, Behzad Nabavi, Saeed Hajjarian and Feizollah Arabsorkhi - were moved from Evin to a special prison of the elite Revolutionary Guards for further interrogation. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Mousavi, who claims to have won the election, said Monday that amid the disorder of the crackdown, "even the judiciary is not able and has no right to visit many prisons and ask for details."

The opposition has called for supporters to attend a "silent memorial" ceremony Thursday for those killed in the crackdown - raising the possibility of a new street confrontation with security forces.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly called for detainees' release, saying the U.S. was "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." He also expressed concern over three detained foreign citizens - Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh, Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari, who holds Iranian and Canadian citizenship, and a French scholar, Clotilde Reiss.

The head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, promised on Monday that the public prosecutor would review the situation of all the postelection detainees within a week and decide whether to release or bring them to trial, the state news agency IRNA reported. State television said Tuesday that Ahmadinejad urged Shahroudi to accelerate making decision on the fate of detainees.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meanwhile, ordered the closure of Kahrizak prison, on Tehran's southern outskirts, Jalali told the Mehr news agency. "It did not possess the required standards to ensure the rights of the detainees," he said. The closure order was announced Monday in the official IRNA news agency, though the prison was not identified.

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. Rouhalamini is a close ally of Mohsen Rezai, the only conservative running against Ahmadinejad in the election.

His son, Mohsen, who was arrested during a July 9 protest, was taken to a hospital after two weeks and died. The Norooz Web site reported that Mohsen had been held at Kahrizak and that his face was beaten in when his father received the body.

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