TEHRAN, Iran - An Iranian opposition leader on Monday released what he said was an account by a prisoner raped by his jailers in a challenge to the country's leadership which has sought to silence claims of torture and abuses in the postelection crackdown.

The allegations of torture and even rapes against imprisoned opposition protesters have become a source of embarrassment to the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran's clerical leadership as they try to put behind them the turmoil of the disputed June presidential election.

Hundreds of protesters and opposition politicians and activists were arrested when security forces crushed the mass protests that erupted after the opposition claimed the June 12 vote was rigged in favour of Ahmadinejad and that pro-reform challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi was the true winner. The opposition says at least 69 people were killed in the crackdown, including some who died from torture in prison.

In recent weeks, hard-line government supporters have fiercely denounced senior opposition figure Mahdi Karroubi after he announced earlier this month that he had received reports that detainees were raped and tortured to death.

On Monday, Karroubi responded by making public for the first time details of one of the accounts. In a statement on his party's Web site, he warned he would release more accounts unless authorities stop denying his claims.

The account is by a released prisoner who had been held in Kahrizak prison, a facility on Tehran's outskirts where many detained protesters were held and which has been at the centre of abuse claims. The author of the account is not identified, and he says he fears retribution for authorities.

"They blindfolded and handcuffed me in prison, beat me nearly to death. Worse that than, they did to me an act that is denounced even by unbelievers and idol worshippers. I only had the courage to inform Mr. Karroubi of this matter," the former prisoner was quoted by the Web site as saying.

The former prisoner says that Karroubi introduced him to judiciary officials, who he said initially interviewed him in a respectful way. He said they took him for an examination by a doctor. But he said he was subsequently questioned by other judiciary officials who tried to force him to retract his claims and accused him of being paid or otherwise induced by Karroubi to make the accusations.

The report did not give details on when the prisoner was arrested or freed.

Karroubi has alleged that he has detailed reports from victims, former military commanders and other senior officials about rapes and abuse in the crackdown, as well as about prisoners tortured to death.

The abuse issue is particularly sensitive for Ahmadinejad's government and the clerical leadership because even some conservatives have joined in the criticism of alleged mistreatment of prisoners.

Senior police and judiciary officials have acknowledged that some detainees were abused and called for those responsible to be punished, apparently in an effort to calm public outrage. Also, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the closure of Kahrizak prison, where at least three prisoners are known to have died.

The issue could also become a weapon in an ongoing split within the conservative camp between Ahmadinejad and his rivals, who have shown increasing tensions since the election.

Earlier this month, parliament speaker Ali Larijani - a prominent conservative opponent of the president - resolutely denied Karroubi's claims of rapes against prisoners. But since then, he appears to have softened his position.

On Monday, a parliament committee probing abuse claims - which was created by Larijani - met with Karroubi to hear his allegations, lawmaker Kazem Jalali told the semi-official Mehr news agency.

"Karroubi shared the case of four people who have gone to him and claimed that they were raped and tortured," Mehr quoted Jalali as saying. The lawmaker said the four told Karroubi that they want to testify about their rape claim but didn't feel safe doing so.

Larijani and his brother, Sadeq Larijani, who was named last week as the new head of the judiciary, have emerged as a potential bloc challenging Ahmadinejad for power and influence during the president's second term.

During his swearing-in, Sadeq Larijani suggested he would prosecute security officials accused of prisoner abuse. Such a move could be a further embarrassment for Ahmadinejad, who has staunchly defended the security forces.

In a further snub to Ahmadinejad, Sadeq Larijani on Monday appointed as the country's new top prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, whom Ahmadinejad fired from the post of intelligence minister last month, state TV reported.

Ahmadinejad dismissed Ejehi in a dispute over the handling of crackdown on the opposition. Ahmadinejad suggested Ejehi had not taken a sufficiently tough line, saying "if he would have carried out his tasks properly, we would not have these problems on the streets" after the election.

After Ejehi's firing, Ahmadinejad purged at least four senior ministry officials who challenged the crackdown. Ejehi had also criticized Ahmadinejad over his attempt to name a close associate, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai as his top vice-president. Conservatives opposed Mashai because he made comments friendly to Israel in the past.

Ahamdinejad is also expected to face a tough battle with conservatives in parliament over his proposed 21-member Cabinet list. The parliament is to vote on the list next week, but lawmakers have warned they will reject some of his nominees, saying they are inexperienced.

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