Former judge Saeed Mortazavi is best known internationally as the man who ordered the torture of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died in custody in Evin Prison 2003 in horrific circumstances. Also known as Iran’s “Butcher of the Press”, Mortazavi has a track record of overseeing human rights violations including arbitrary detention and torture going back almost two decades.
Mortazavi held a number of senior roles in the Islamic Republic including head of the press court, chief prosecutor in Tehran from 2003 to 2009, and head of the Social Security Organization from 2012 to 2013. Like many of his peers in the upper echelons of the regime, hewas not held accountable for his illegal activities for many years. His position became untenable only after three people arrested in protests after the disputed 2009 presidential election died under torture in Tehran’s notorious Kahrizak Detention Center.
In 2014, Mortazavi was disbarred from the Iranian judiciary for life and banned from holding office in government for five years. In 2016, he was sentenced to 135 lashes for corruption and finally in 2018, he was sentenced to a year and a half in jail for one of the deaths: that of Mohsen Rouholamini, the son of a conservative politician.
Early on in 2018, a lawyer for Rouholamini's father had reported that the Special Government Employees Court had sent Mortazavi down for a full two years in relation to the killing of this prisoner. Either way, Mortazavi was ultimately released for “good behavior” after 17 months in prison.
On Tuesday, August 10, 2021, Mortazavi’s defense lawyer, Saeed Ayoubi, announced that the Iranian Supreme Court had acquitted him of the charge of “accessory to murder” for the deaths of the Kahrizak detainees - despite the fact that their transfer to the facility and torture had occurred by all accounts on his orders. The lawyer added that his client should be “praised” for his role in jailing civilian protesters.
“The argument of the judge of Branch 1 of the Supreme Court,” Ayoubi told Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), “was that the charge of accessory to murder was flawed, especially given that two colleagues who participated in those activities and were even involved in the arrests had been acquitted of the same. Another part of the verdict states that in the indictment issued last month, Mortazavi was not found guilty of illegal arrests and, consequently, the charge of accessory to murder is basically irrelevant.”
When asked what difference the Supreme Court’s verdict made when his client had already served 17 months of his sentence, Ayoubi replied: “This verdict is meant to restore his good name and show that he was innocent of what happened in Kahrizak.
“This might seem like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, but now it has been recorded in judicial history that a prosecutor whose sole preoccupation was to protect the city’s security was sent to prison for two years instead of being praised for it. Now, after two years, they have arrived at the conclusion that he was innocent.”