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Suspect in Iran serial murder case says not guilty

TEHRAN, Jan 4 (Reuters) - A defendant in Iran's serial murder trial has denied active participation in the murders of dissidents in 1998, newspapers reported on Thursday.

Iraj Amouzegar, the 11th of 18 defendants to stand trial, is the only one so far to deny involvement in the string of murders that shocked Iran, the newspaper Hayat-e No reported. High-ranking intelligence ministry agents are among those being tried by Tehran's military court.

Amuzegar told the court on Wednesday that he had "been informed" of the murders but had not carried out any of them, the daily said. Other newspapers carried similar reports.

The hardline judge presiding over the military court ordered the trials to be held behind closed doors, citing national security concerns. The next session will be on Saturday.

The defendants are on trial for four cold-blooded murders carried out in autumn 1998.

Reformists say the four killings were among more than 80 murders and "disappearances" stretching over 10 years as part of a wider campaign by state-sponsored death squads to silence opposition.

The most senior government agent arrested in connection with the killings, deputy Intelligence Minister Saeed Emami, died in custody after drinking hair remover. Many question the official coroner's verdict of suicide.

Two pro-reform investigative journalists and a former interior minister have said responsibility for the murders goes much higher. Several senior clerics in the establishment are implicated in the conspiracy, they said.

All three have been put in jail and the judiciary, dominated by hardliners close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has vowed to prosecute anyone else making unauthorised revelations.

Victims' families and their lawyers are boycotting the proceedings in protest against the removal of evidence and the restriction of the prosecution to only four murders.

The affair has not helped embattled President Mohammad Khatami, who swept to power in 1997 promising to ensure freedom of speech and the rule of law.


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