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Iranian woman, Nasrin, holds a Santa Claus chocolate as she poses for a photograph at a coffee shop, in a Christian neighborhood in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012. Iran's constitution gives protected status to Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, but many religious minorities sense growing pressures from the Islamic state. Iran has claimed as a point of pride that it makes space for other religions. It reserves parliament seats for Jewish and Christian lawmakers and permits churches _ Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox and others _ as well as synagogues and Zoroastrian temples that are under sporadic watch by authorities. Religious celebrations are allowed, but no political messages or overtones are tolerated. In past years, authorities have staged arrests on Christians and other religious minorities. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

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Iran lawmakers seek deeper probe in blogger death

Sunday, January 06, 2013 - Updated: 6:09 PM

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A powerful group in Iran's parliament called Sunday for expanded investigations into the death of a jailed blogger in a case that has already brought down the chief of the Internet-monitoring police and opened rare public debates over the growing powers of the country's Web watchers.

While the blogger, Sattar Beheshti, was not the first suspected opposition activist to die in Iranian custody — and bring international condemnation on Iran — the fallout since November has taken an added toll by exposing apparent conflicts between regular security networks and the widening clout of the cyberpolice.

Iran's leaders have placed a top priority on efforts to stamp out online dissent and fight the co-called "soft war" against perceived Western influence via the Internet, which remains highly filtered in Iran but blocks are often bypassed by the country's educated and tech-savvy population. New Web-watching police units have gained increasing clout and took the lead in Beheshti's arrest and interrogation.

Some officials, including influential lawmakers, question whether the cyberpolice acted without going through proper judicial channels to receive an arrest warrant.

A statement read Sunday on behalf of the parliament's Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy called for a "special" investigation into the death of the 35-year-old blogger.

It was not immediately clear what kind of added probe could occur since prosecutors already have opened an investigation into the case. But the statement reflects widespread outrage over possible legal shortcuts by the cyberpolice and alleged abuses. The committee's report also urged police to monitor all detention centers through closed circuit cameras, and suggested prosecutors make regular visits.

The report said Beheshti — described as having "close contact" with foreign-based opposition groups — had bruises and inflammations in his face, left leg and back.

While in jail, Beheshti had officially complained that he was mistreated and tortured, according to Kaleme, a news website close to the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. Kaleme was the first to report the blogger's death in November.

In November, Iran's state prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehei said Beheshti died in police custody and that wounds were found on his body.

Weeks later, Iran fired its head of cyber-security, Gen. Mohammad Hasan Shokrian, for "failure and lack of sufficient supervision over the performance of personnel under his command." Three police officers remain in detention.

Arrests of activists and claims of abuse in detention are commonplace in Iran, but deaths behind bars are much rarer.

In 2010, Iran's judiciary dismissed suspended three judges and dismissed several police officers following a report by the parliament over death of three prisoners of the post-election protests and clashes in the wake of the disputed 2009 presidential elections.

     

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