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Iran jails notorious prosecutor who sent Canadian to her death

Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi adjusts his glasses in his office in Tehran, in this Nov. 1999, file photo.

HASAN SARBAKHSHIAN/AP

The notorious Iranian prosecutor linked to the imprisonment and death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi has been arrested and sent to the same jail where Ms. Kazemi was detained and beaten, Iran's leading news agency reported.

Saeed Mortazavi, the Tehran prosecutor who sent Ms. Kazemi to prison in 2003, was arrested Monday night, according to the Fars news agency.

Though the reports remain vague and Iran's judicial system unpredictable, it raises a prospect Iranian dissidents will cheer: that a feared judge and prosecutor, long believed to have overseen the brutal prison beatings and deaths of journalists, protesters and dissidents, will languish in the cells he once ruled.

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No reason was given for his arrest, although Fars said the arrest is believed to be linked to another case of prison abuses, the deaths of three detainees after protests of Iran's 2009 elections.

Fars said their sources indicated that Mr. Mortazavi was arrested while leaving his office Monday and that Tehran's deputy prosecutor was present at the scene.

Mr. Mortazavi was transferred to Evin prison after his arrest, the news agency reported.

In recent days, Mr. Mortazavi has been at the centre of an unusually bitter public dispute between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran's most influential political family, according to reports in The New York Times.

During a Sunday session of Parliament, Mr. Ahmadinejad disclosed secret film recordings of what he purported were fraudulent business deals involving the brother of Ali Larijani, the head of the Parliament and a political rival of the President's.

During the conversation, read out in part by Mr. Ahmadinejad, Fazel Larijani appears to try to use his family connections to buy a factory from a state agency. He promises leniency for Mr. Mortazavi, who faces several criminal proceedings over the 2009 deaths.

In Canada, Mr. Mortazavi is infamous for his part in overseeing the imprisonment of Ms. Kazemi in Evin prison, where she was beaten to death.

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Ms. Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, was arrested while taking pictures outside Evin prison of relatives of detainees. It was Mr. Mortazavi, then chief judicial prosecutor in Tehran, who committed her to prison and supervised her detention: 19 days of beatings and torture, it was later revealed, that led to her death.

Mr. Mortazavi initially insisted Ms. Kazemi died from a stroke and Iranian authorities later said she died from a fall. But an Iranian emergency-room doctor who later fled the country, Shahram Azam, said he saw Ms. Kazemi four days after she was arrested and her body was marked with the evidence of brutal beatings, rape and torture.

Ms. Kazemi's death, and the cover-up, has been a sharp sticking point ever since in the deteriorating relations between Canada and Iran. But Mr. Mortazavi has never faced justice over it.

The Canadian government has indicated they hold Mr. Mortazavi responsible for Ms. Kazemi's death. "Mark my words. This individual is on notice," then-foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay said in 2006. "If there is any way Canada can bring this person to justice, we'll do it." Ms. Kazemi's son, Stephan Kazemi, launched a lawsuit against Iran in Quebec courts, naming Mr. Mortazavi as one of three Iranian officials responsible.

Long known in Iran as the man who shut down dozens of newspapers and oversaw harsh treatment of dissidents, it is Mr. Mortazavi's role in the 2009 prison deaths of election protesters that has dogged his position for more than two years.

A special parliamentary commission held him responsible for the beating deaths and he was removed from the judiciary in 2010. His ally, Mr. Ahmadinejad, appointed him instead to head Iran's sprawling social welfare organization – and when parliamentarians ordered him removed, Mr. Ahmadinejad sought loopholes to reinstate him.

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Now, however, the feud has erupted into public view, emerging not just as a contest of wills between parliamentarians and the President, but as a feud between Mr. Ahmadinejad and influential political players.

In a parliamentary session Sunday, Mr. Ahmadinejad sought to fend off the impeachment of his Labour Minister, Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, accused of defying Parliament by ignoring orders to fire Mr. Mortazavi. But he did so by pointing a finger – with allegations of corruption – at the head of Parliament, Ali Larijani, a politician who has close ties to powerful clerics and whose brother heads Iran's judiciary.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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