July 1, 2009 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Thug who imposes the law in Tehran

The man who has been orchestrating the crackdown on journalists and demonstrators since 12 June 2009, Tehran prosecutor general Said Mortazavi, has had a long career as a human rights predator. It is Mortazavi who issues the warrants to the intelligence ministry and prosecutor’s office agents who arrest “suspects”. He prepares the prosecution cases, drafts the indictments and oversees interrogation. On the basis of past experience, we believe he participates actively in interrogation sessions. Born in 1967 in the small town of Meybod, in the eastern province of Kerman, he went to secondary school before joining a militia created by Ayatollah Khomeiny in the 1980s. He began studying law at Tafat free university in Kerman province in 1985 without sitting an entrance test, taking advantage of a quota reserved for militiamen and the relatives of martyrs. At the same time, he worked for two years as Tafat deputy prosecutor before becoming the head of the justice department in the province. His links with the “Motalefeh” current, a conservative wing of the regime with a great deal of influence within the judicial system, played a key role in his rise in the state apparatus. He was named as president of the 9th chamber of the Tehran court in 1992. During a “media spring” that was made possible by the reformist Mohamad Khatami’s election as president in 1997, the ambitious Judge Mortazavi became the scourge of the pro-reform newspapers, acting at the Supreme Leader’s behest. After presiding Tribunal 1410, dubbed the “press tribunal” for having suspended hundreds of newspapers since April 2000, Mortazavi was appoint Tehran prosecutor general on 20 May 2003. Prosecutor and, ironically, law professor at the Tehran faculty of journalism, Mortazavi’s persecution of the media has resulted in the suspension of dozens of newspapers and the jailing of many journalists, often tried behind closed doors and held in solitary confinement for months, as was confirmed by a UN delegation that included special rapporteur for freedom of expression Ambeyi Ligabo. UN Human Rights Commission special representative Maurice Copithorne was told by a senior official in 2002 that Mortazavi was one of four judges being investigated by a judicial disciplinary court on suspicion of committing serious crimes. Copithorne had proposed at the time that he should be immediately relieved of his duties pending a decision by this court. Mortazavi reportedly uses every kind of psychological and physical pressure and harassment when he conducts interrogations. His use of mistreatment has been confirmed several times. Mortazavi is blamed for Iranian-Canadian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi’s death in custody on July 2003. Arrested while photographing the families of detainees outside Tehran’s Evin prison on 23 June 2003, Kazemi was tortured during interrogation and died as a result of injuries to the head. “Two official Iranian investigations confirmed that Mortazavi ordered the illegal arrest and detention of Ms. Kazemi that resulted in her torture and death,” Canadian foreign minister Lawrence Cannon said on 26 June. He also said there had been reports that Mortazavi falsified documents to cover up his involvement in her case. Canada continues to press Iran to carry out a credible investigation into her death. In a crackdown on bloggers in 2004, Mortazavi used videoed confessions as a way to pressure some of those detained. As a result, Omid Memarian, Shahram Rafihzadeh, Rozbeh Mir Ebrahimi, Javad Gholam Tamayomi were all forced to accuse themselves of grotesque crimes they had never committed. One of these bloggers, Rafihzadeh, the daily Etemad’s arts and culture editor, who was arrested on 7 September 2004 and released two months later, told Reporters Without Borders: “Mortazavi played a key role in the bloggers affair, both during the interrogations, in which he did not hesitate to use torture, and in the staging of the confessions, which he dictated himself.” Rafihzadeh continued: “After we were released, we were summoned to Mortazavi’s office and he threatened to organise an ‘interview’ with the Fars News agency that all the media would attend. These forced confessions were as important as the actual trial. I remember that Mortazavi threatened us one day, saying, ‘The next time it will be 20 years if you don’t do what I say. And don’t forget that road accidents happen quickly in Iran, either to you or your family.’ “In these confessions, he wanted us to denounce journalists and pro-reform politicians. He also insisted a great deal that we talk about the Zahra Kazemi case, asking us to say that ‘Kazemi was invited to Iran by one of the reformist politicians’. He wanted to use our confessions to cover up his own involvement in the case.” Another blogger, Omidreza Mirsayafi, who was arrested on Mortazavi’s orders, died in prison in suspicious circumstances on 18 March 2009. At the time, Reporters Without Borders called for an immediate investigation into his death. Nowadays, the authorities, above all Mortazavi, are using the same methods now against those who have been arrested.