Associated Press: Iran's hard-line judiciary on Tuesday denounced journalists who claimed they were tortured into making confessions, saying the newsmen were inciting
people against the government. Associated Press

ALI AKBAR DAREINI

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's hard-line judiciary on Tuesday denounced journalists who claimed they were tortured into making confessions, saying the newsmen were inciting people against the government.

More than 20 journalists from print, Internet and other media outlets have been detained since September in a crackdown on the pro-reform press.

Several of the journalists told a presidential commission last month they were tortured into confessing to charges such as insulting sacred beliefs and endangering national security after publishing articles critical of conservatives in the government.

President Mohamad Khatami on Saturday ordered an investigation into journalists' allegations, and international rights organizations expressed concern for the journalists' safety.

Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said the journalists should pursue their claims through the Tehran prosecutor's office. "Going to unrelated and incompetent bodies that play up things is not correct," he said.

"In case their rights have been trampled or they have claims, they should not go to other bodies and incite public opinion inside and outside the country against the judiciary."

The claims come amid a long-running dispute between conservative Shiite clerics, who control powerful political and legal decision-making bodies here, and reformists demanding greater freedom for Iranians.

Hanif Mazrouei, one of the Web bloggers detained, dismissed Karimirad's comments, saying the judiciary does not listen to prisoner complaints.

"How can we file complaint against a top authority who ordered interrogators to use force to obtain confessions?" Mazrouei said. "My interrogator punched me in the head and stomach and kicked me in the back many times to force me confess to having illegal sex and endangered national security through my writings."

Mazrouei spent 66 days in solitary confinement and was blindfolded most of the time. No official charges were brought against him. He and the others have been freed but are frequently summoned to court.

Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi is named by detainees as the main authority behind the torture. Mortazavi, previously a judge, is widely seen as the person behind a press crackdown in 2000 that led to the closure of more than 100 pro-democracy publications, as well as the arrests and prosecution of dozens of reformist journalists and political activists.

Human Rights Watch has said it was "extremely concerned" about the safety of local journalists who have received death threats from judicial officials since their testimony alleging torture.