Trouble at home for Iranian president as prosecutor held

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Picture: Getty
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Picture: Getty
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A FORMER Iranian prosecutor linked to the deaths of anti-­government protesters has been arrested and sent to Tehran’s ­notorious Evin prison,

The arrest of Saeed Mortazavi came as tensions between president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main political rival, Ali Larijani, burst into the open.

On Sunday, the Tehran parliament dismissed Mr Ahmadinejad’s labour minister for hiring Mr Mortazavi, and Mr Ahmadinejad tried to protect the minister by taking the floor to hurl corruption allegations at the family of Mr Larijani, the parliamentary speaker.

Mr Ahmadinejad is fighting to remain relevant as his second and last term in office draws to a close. With parliament and Mr Larijani, a possible candidate in June’s presidential election, becoming more assertive, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for unity to little avail.

“The Tehran prosecutor announced on Monday night that Saeed Mortazavi has been arrested,” a statement from the prosecutor’s office said yesterday.

Mr Mortazavi was central in stamping out dissent after Mr Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009, and has been described by Human Rights Watch as a “serial abuser”.

Before leaving Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport for Cairo, Mr Ahmadinejad said he would investigate the case on his return.

“The judiciary is not a special family organisation,” he said, according to state news agency IRNA reported. The head of Iran’s judiciary is Sadeq Larijani, the speaker’s brother.

“I don’t know how it has happened that one person has committed an infraction, and another person is arrested,” Mr Ahmadinejad said. “Instead of going after the violator, they go after the person who has announced the violation, and this is very ugly.”

Mr Mortazavi was arrested as he was leaving his office on Monday, and taken to Evin prison, Fars news agency reported.

He had been suspended from his judicial post over the deaths by torture of three protesters in custody after the 2009 election. The opposition claimed the election had been rigged in Mr Ahmadinejad’s favour, and huge protests were put down by force.

Fars said Mr Mortazavi’s arrest could be linked to his involvement in the prison deaths. Iran’s judiciary said in January a court would address the cases in March.

Analysts say the detention would not have been possible without the ayatollah’s consent.

“Mortazavi’s arrest was part of the payback for the president’s appearance in parliament,” said a western diplomat in Tehran.

In his speech tp parliament, Mr Ahmadinejad played a tape he said showed a meeting between Mr Larijani’s brother Fazel and the former Tehran prosecutor in which Fazel attempted to use his family’s political status for financial gain.

“[This[ was seen as badly overstepping his rights,” the diplomat said. Mr Ahmadinejad’s star has been on the wane since he fell out with parliament early in his second term and appeared to lose the ayatollah’s support.

Both Larijani brothers deny corruption. Ali Larijani, who represents the Shia Muslim clerical centre of Qom, accused the president of not observing “the basics of proper behaviour”.

Labour minister Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, dismissed on Sunday, defied MPs last year to appoint Mr Mortazavi – dubbed Butcher of the Press for leading a crackdown on media critics – as head of his social security office.

Warm welcome and stern warning for Ahmadinejad in Egypt

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was welcomed and warned off yesterday when he began the first visit to Egypt by an Iranian president since Tehran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

The trip was meant to underline a thaw in relations since Egyptians elected an Islamist head of state, president Mohamed Morsi, last June.

Mr Morsi, a member of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, kissed Mr Ahmadinejad after he landed at Cairo airport.

But the Shiite Iranian leader received a stiff rebuke when he met Egypt’s leading Sunni Muslim scholar later at Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque and university. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb urged Iran to refrain from interfering in Gulf Arab states, to recognise Bahrain as a “sisterly Arab nation” and rejected the extension of Shiite Muslim influence in Sunni countries.

Visiting Cairo to attend an Islamic summit that begins today, Mr Ahmadinejad said he hoped his trip would be “a new starting point in relations between us”.