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Iran lawmakers seek deeper probe in blogger death

By The Associated Press

This article was published January 6, 2013 at 2:52 p.m.

— A powerful group in Iran’s parliament called Sunday for expanded investigations into the death of a jailed blogger in a case that has already brought down the chief of the Internet-monitoring police and opened rare public debates over the growing powers of the country’s Web watchers.

While the blogger, Sattar Beheshti, was not the first suspected opposition activist to die in Iranian custody — and bring international condemnation on Iran — the fallout since November has taken an added toll by exposing apparent conflicts between regular security networks and the widening clout of the cyberpolice.

Iran’s leaders have placed a top priority on efforts to stamp out online dissent and fight the co-called “soft war” against perceived Western influence via the Internet, which remains highly filtered in Iran but blocks are often bypassed by the country’s educated and tech-savvy population. New Web-watching police units have gained increasing clout and took the lead in Beheshti’s arrest and interrogation.

Some officials, including influential lawmakers, question whether the cyberpolice acted without going through proper judicial channels to receive an arrest warrant.

A statement read Sunday on behalf of the parliament’s Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy called for a “special” investigation into the death of the 35-year-old blogger.

It was not immediately clear what kind of added probe could occur since prosecutors already have opened an investigation into the case. But the statement reflects widespread outrage over possible legal shortcuts by the cyberpolice and alleged abuses. The committee’s report also urged police to monitor all detention centers through closed circuit cameras, and suggested prosecutors make regular visits.

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