Iranian parliament to probe blogger's death

Anti-government blogger Sattar Beheshti died in custody, other prisoners signed letter saying he had been tortured

Iranians work on computer [illustrative] 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Caren Firouz)
Iranians work on computer [illustrative] 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Caren Firouz)
A parliamentary inquiry committee had been established to investigate the death of anti-government blogger and Facebook activist Sattar Beheshti, Iran’s deputy parliament speaker said on Sunday.
Activists say Beheshti died after being tortured in custody.
The Iranian Student’s News Agency (ISNA) quoted Mohammad Hassan Abutorabi-Fard as saying that he had asked Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the parliament’s Committee on Foreign Policy and National Security, to probe the death.
The exact time and cause of Beheshti’s death remain unclear. Iran’s cyber police, the Fata, arrested the 35-yearold blogger on October 30 at his home in Robat Karim, a working-class dormitory town southwest of Tehran, on charges of “acting against national security on social networks and Facebook.”
Iranian opposition groups said police raided Beheshti’s home and seized several of his personal belongings, among them a computer.
On November 6, a week after Beheshti’s arrest, security authorities contacted his family and told them to collect his body from Tehran’s Kahrizak detention facility, opposition websites said. According to the BBC’s Persian service, the security authorities later refused to allow anyone other than Beheshti’s brother-in-law to attend the blogger’s funeral on Thursday.
The decision to probe Beheshti’s death came after MP Ahmad Tavakkoli, a conservative representative of Tehran and a prominent critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called on the judiciary on Sunday to investigate the case.
“A death has occurred, and it must be explained,” Tavakkoli said, in comments that were broadcast on state media.
Beheshti’s local MP, Ebrahim Nekoo, also called for the blogger’s death to be investigated, asking why the matter had not been reported to him or to other Rabat Karim officials.
Although Iran’s state media has been silent on the cause of Beheshti’s death, a number of unofficial conservative and reformist news sites have claimed he died after being tortured by the security services.
Conservative website Baztab, which is close to Discernment Council secretary and former Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezaee, reported on Thursday that the activist had died during interrogation, while Saham News, the website of prominent reformist politician Mehdi Karroubi, said Beheshti had been “tortured to death.”
On Saturday, Iranian opposition news site Kaleme, which has reported extensively on the case, posted the text of a letter it said was signed by 41 political prisoners in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, who testified that they had witnessed signs of torture on Beheshti’s body after his transfer there from Kahrizak.
“When arriving at Evin’s ward 350, evidence of torture was apparent throughout Sattar’s body and he was in a painful physical and psychological state. His face was scarred, his head was swollen, his wrists and arms were bruised and the effects of hanging from the ceiling were apparent on his wrists. Bruises were also apparent on other parts of his body such as around his neck, his stomach and his back,” the letter said.
The letter added that even though Beheshti was barely able to write as a result of his beatings, he managed to file a short complaint. Beheshti was later transferred to the prison infirmary, the letter claimed, and on November 1 police took him to the security service headquarters.
“He was extremely concerned when leaving the ward and told other detainees: “They intend to kill me.”
“Four days after his transfer, his family was informed of his death,” the political prisoners testified in their letter.
Kaleme also published what it said was the text of the letter of complaint Beheshti wrote in prison, although the authenticity of the document has not been independently verified.
According to Kaleme, part of Beheshti’s complaint letter read: “I hold Fata [the cyber police] responsible for anything that happens to me, and declare that any confessions taken from me were extracted under torture, which I was subjected to during my 12 hours in room 2 of Ward 350 [of Evin prison].”
Several Western governments and human rights groups have issued strong condemnations of Beheshti’s death.
The US State Department has called for an investigation, as have France and Britain.
On Sunday, Catherine Ashton, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy issued a statement expressing “deep concern” at Beheshti’s death in custody.
“The EU expects the Iranian authorities to conduct a thorough inquiry into the case, in order to establish the exact circumstances of his death,” Ashton’s statement said.
On Friday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US “join[ed] the international community in demanding the Iranian government investigate this murder, hold accountable those responsible for Beheshti’s arrest, torture and killing, and immediately cease all reported harassment of Beheshti’s family.”
Amnesty International called on the Iranian authorities to carry out “an immediate investigation into [Beheshti’s] death, including whether torture played a part in it.”
Amnesty said that a day before his arrest, Beheshti said he had been threatened by the security services.
“Yesterday they threatened that my mom would wear black because I don’t shut my mouth,” he wrote on his blog, according to Amnesty.
Amnesty said the Iranian government had acknowledged that at least three previous Kahrizak inmates had died as a result of torture. Torture and mistreatment are also frequently used in some sections of Evin Prison, according to Amnesty.
On Saturday, Human Rights Watch said it has documented numerous cases of torture, medical neglect and mistreatment of prisoners in Iranian jails since 2009, including in Kahrizak.
“With more than a dozen deaths in the past four years, Iran’s prisons are rapidly turning into death traps for detainees, including people who should never have been behind bars to begin with,” said Eric Goldstein, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.
A source close to Beheshti’s family told HRW that the Iranian authorities had put pressure on the blogger’s relatives after they gave interviews to opposition websites following his death, Goldstein said.
Beheshti was not especially well-known among Iranian bloggers. He ran a site called My Life for My Iran, which he used to criticize the Iranian government.