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Iran police torture case heightens political tensions

TEHRAN, March 7 (AFP) - The head of security affairs for the Iranian police is to be tried for torture in a case that has further heightened simmering political tensions between reformers and hardliners in the Islamic republic.

General Mohammad-Reza Naghdi and 10 other officers will be tried in a military court on May 3 on charges of beating and torturing top officials in the Tehran municipal government, it was announced last week.

Naghdi has denied the charges but the scandal is the latest blow to the battered image of Iran's security forces following the shock announcement that "rogue" intelligence agents were involved in the murder of several prominent dissidents and intellectuals late last year.

"We never tortured anyone and these municipal officials are merely trying to launch a propaganda campaign," Naghdi told reporters.

But the Iran newspaper on Saturday said the nine men had been "blindfolded, battered, tortured and humiliated," adding they were held at an "illegal detention centre" in separate cells without windows or light.

The spectacular case has highlighted the rift between reformers close to moderate President Mohammad Khatami and hardliners in the regime who control Iran's security and judicial bodies.

"This is simply a political campaign against the police and the judiciary. But these crocodile tears will surely have no effect on the course of justice," Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, head of Iran's powerful judiciary, said recently.

The police are not under direct governmental control and are ultimately under the command of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the nation's supreme religious leader.

Interior Minister Abdol-Vahed Mussavi-Lari, a moderate close to the president, has only interim supervision of the police force at the behest of Khamenei.

The Tehran officials' charges came to light last year when the nine men revealed the accusations to moderate MPs close to Khatami.

The nine men, including two of the capital's district mayors, had been arrested on corruption charges during the investigation of former Tehran mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi.

The men, including two of the capital's district mayors, went public with their torture accusations right in the midst of Karbaschi's trial.

Karbaschi, who is also close to the president, was convicted of misappropriating public funds and his case is currently under appeal at the supreme court.

But the pro-reform mayor has repeatedly claimed the case was a political set-up and his trial was a flashpoint for angry disputes between hardliners and reformers.

The torture accusations are not the first time General Naghdi has found himself under intenese public scrutiny.

The Zan (Woman) newspaper, headed by the daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, last year accused the general of attacking two of the government's leading moderates, Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani and Vice President Abdollah Nuri.

A court found the charges baseless and suspended publication of the paper for two weeks last year.


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