Tehran: Iran`s police chief acknowledged on Sunday that protesters detained in post-election unrest were abused in custody but said the deaths of prisoners were caused by illness, not torture.
Iran`s opposition reformists say young people protesting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad`s June 12 re-election were tortured to death at Kahrizak detention centre. More troubling for the government, however, is that some prominent figures in its own conservative support base also say murders were committed in the prison.
Stories of widespread abuse at Kahrizak detention centre on Tehran`s southern outskirts prompted Iran`s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to order its closure last month for "not possessing the required standards”.
Authorities also fired the head of the prison for "mismanagement" and three guards at the facility were detained on charges of mistreating detainees. Human rights groups have identified at least three protesters they say died after being detained at Kahrizak.
General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, Iran`s police chief, acknowledged protesters were beaten by their jailers at Kahrizak, but said an outbreak of disease was to blame for deaths.
"This detention centre was built to house dangerous criminals. Housing people related to recent riots caused an outbreak of diseases," the official IRNA news agency quoted Moghaddam as saying.
Protesters "died of viral illness and not as a result of beating," he added, according to another news agency, the semiofficial Fars.
At least 30 people have died in the unrest that followed the disputed election, according to figures from a parliamentary investigation. Hundreds have been detained. Human rights groups believe the death toll is likely far higher.
The opposition says Ahmadinejad won the election through fraud and that the pro-reform candidate, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, is the rightful winner.