Former Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, who was behind some of the most notorious prison deaths in Iran the last decade, was apprehended April 22 and transferred to Evin prison, where he will serve a two-year sentence for being an accessory to murder in 2009.
On April 12, a spokesman for Iran’s judiciary, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, when asked about Mortazavi’s longstanding case, said, “His verdict has been issued, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to find him.” Mohseni-Ejei’s comments instantly went viral, with Iranians mockingly posting “Wanted” pictures of Mortazavi on social media. Iranian social media users also posted pictures of “Wanted” posters that had been put up on Iranian streets. That a former high government official, one who was often still seen in attendance at official gatherings or Friday prayers, could not be found was laughable to most Iranians. He was apprehended over the weekend in a village in northern Iran.
Mortazavi was once referred to as the “Butcher of Tehran” for his role in shuttering Reformist newspapers during his time as Tehran's prosecutor. He had come to symbolize the immunity that the judiciary and hard-line officials operate with in Iran. A parliamentary panel held Mortazavi directly responsible for three deaths in Kahrizak prison following the 2009 protests of the presidential election. He has also been linked to the 2003 death of Canadian-Iranian photographer Zahra Kazemi and to financial improprieties at Iran’s Social Security Organization. Mortazavi has held so many different important positions within the government — he began his career as a prosecutor while only in his 20s — that Shargh Daily asked, “Which Mortazavi was sent to prison?”
Mortazavi’s conviction was specifically for the death of Mohsen Rouholamini, the son of an adviser to conservative presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei’s campaign. Under the orders of Mortazavi, Rouholamini was rounded up in the 2009 protests and transferred to Kahrizak detention center, where, along with other detainees, he was abused and eventually died of his wounds.
Mortazavi remained defiant to the end, having once claimed during the appellate process via a statement (he refused to personally attend), “Under this government I will never go to prison.”
Despite Mortazavi’s arrest, Iranian activists and social media users are not necessarily celebrating the application of justice in this case. Mortazavi is believed to have been sent to Ward 241 in Evin prison, where Hamid Baghaei, another official from the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad administration, is serving a prison sentence for corruption.
Mehdi Hashemi, the son of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is also believed to be in this section serving out his corruption sentence. BBC Persian radio quipped whether or not Mortazavi is being sent to “Evin hotel.”
Many others compared Mortazavi’s light sentence with those of the activists who were arrested during the 2009 protests and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. Many of those activists were also later barred from working as journalists or activists and had their careers completely derailed. Some of the high-profile dual nationals who have been arrested in Iran in recent years on dubious charges also received much harsher punishments than Mortazavi. British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison by Iran’s judiciary. Father and son Siamak and Baquer Namazi were both sentenced to 10 years in prison.
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