TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's top opposition leader said Wednesday that the abuse and death of protesters detained after the disputed presidential elections shows the need for "deep change" in the country, in the most sweeping call for reform of the system to date.
Reformists have seized on the mistreatment of detainees at Kahrizak prison as a way to keep pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who they claim stole the June 12 election through massive fraud.
"What is happening in prisons today clearly shows the need for a deep change in the country," said Mir Hossein Mousavi on his Web site.
Influential conservatives have also criticized the abuse at Kahrizak and the three deaths known to have taken place there.
Senior police and judiciary officials have tried to calm public outrage by acknowledging that some detainees were abused in prison and calling for those responsible to be punished.
The reformist Islamic Revolution Mujahedeen Organization weighed in Wednesday and said that Ahmadinejad and Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli were to blame for the "crimes committed at Abu Ghraib Kahrizak."
"These two people are responsible for all violations, illegal behavior and appalling treatment of detainees at Kahrizak prison," the reformist party said in a statement posted on its Web site.
The reference to Abu Ghraib is particularly inflammatory because the Muslim world was outraged by pictures that surfaced in 2004 of U.S. military personnel torturing Iraqi detainees at the prison outside of Baghdad.
Iran's parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, sought to defuse some of the controversy Wednesday by denying allegations made by a defeated reformist presidential candidate that protesters detained at Kahrizak were raped by their jailers.
"The issue of detainees being sexually abused is a lie," Larijani told an open session of parliament, according to Iran's official news agency IRNA. "On the basis of precise and comprehensive investigations conducted about the detainees at Kahrizak and Evin prisons, no cases of rape and sexual abuse were found."
Mahdi Karroubi said Sunday he has received reports from former military commanders and other senior officials that male and female prisoners were savagely raped by their jailers to the point of physical and mental damage. Larijani's swift denial is likely an effort by hard-liners to minimize fallout from the allegations.
Hossein Shariatmadari, an aide to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and editor of the hard-line Kayhan newspaper, demanded in an editorial published Wednesday before Larijani's announcement that Karroubi be put on trial for making the allegations.
The government is already holding a trial for some 100 politicians, journalists and activists who have been accused of involvement in an alleged "velvet revolution" to overthrow the Islamic leadership at the behest of foreign powers.
In his statement, Moussavi scoffed at the attempts to portray the demonstrations as the work of foreigners.
"The biggest lies are to attribute the natural demand of the people for change to foreigners," Mousavi said.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his supporters have used every occasion to depict the protesters as tools of foreign powers.
Mousavi said security forces and pro-government militia who suppressed peaceful demonstration of his supporters, were the ones serving the interests of Iran's enemies.
"People wanted and still want to raise their demands and protests peacefully and free from tension and those who turned peaceful gatherings into a bloody event serve interests of foreigners," the Web site quoted him as saying.
One of those on trial is Clotilde Reiss, a French academic who President Nicolas Sarkozy has urged Iran to release. French government spokesman Luc Chatel said Wednesday that France expects Reiss to be freed on bail.
Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted an "informed political source" as saying the French Embassy in Tehran sent a note to the judiciary agreeing to deposit bail in order to win Reiss' freedom.
The French Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the report.
France said Tuesday that Iran freed Nazak Afshar, a local French Embassy employee who still faces trial. Sarkozy has said he hopes the charges against Afshar will be dropped and Reiss will be able to return home.
But Tehran prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, said Reiss would not be allowed to leave Iran even if she was released on bail, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.
Hundreds have been arrested since the presidential election as security forces crushed massive protests by supporters of Mousavi, who claims he was the true winner in the vote.
Iran has confirmed at least 30 people have died in the country's worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but the opposition said Tuesday that at least 69 people have died in two months of postelection turmoil based on accounts from the victims' families.