A German government official and an Iranian opposition group say a top Iranian cleric under investigation in Germany for alleged crimes against humanity has left the country, Reuters reports.
The news agency quoted an unidentified German government official as saying in the afternoon of January 11 that Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi was aboard an Iran-bound plane.
Javad Dabiran, a spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said that the exiled opposition group saw Shahrudi leave the hospital in the northern city of Hannover where he was receiving treatment. Dabiran said the cleric later departed from Hamburg airport on an Iran Air flight.
A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said authorities "will continue to examine on a legal basis whether Shahroudi was guilty of crimes against humanity" during the period he was overseeing an estimated 2,000 executions as the head of Iran's Judiciary, regardless of whether he leaves or stays in the Germany.
Two complaints were filed this week in Germany against Shahroudi, who has been mentioned as a possible future Iranian supreme leader. One complaint was made by former Green Party lawmaker Volker Beck and the other was by an exiled opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
The opposition group urged Germany on January 10 to immediately issue an arrest warrant for Shahroudi to prevent him from leaving the northern city of Hannover, where he is receiving medical treatment. The group said it learned that the Iranian government has reserved seven flight tickets for Shahroudi and his entourage to return to Tehran on January 11.
A coalition of Iranian human rights groups on January 10 said it provided the German government with evidence that Shahroudi "was responsible for the Islamic Revolutionary Courts that sent numerous human rights activists, defense lawyers, journalists, bloggers, political dissidents, and religious minorities, to Iran’s notorious prisons where they were subject to torture, rape, and murder."
The coalition quoted Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights lawyer who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, as saying "Shahroudi is directly responsible for the appointment of judges and prosecutors that have been responsible for persecutions and systematic violations of fundamental human rights. He must be held accountable."
Shahroudi has been the target of protests and sharp criticism during his stay at a neurological treatment center in Hannover.
The mass-circulation Bild daily's front-page headline on January 8 read, "Death Judge In Iran, Luxury Patient In Germany."
The Jerusalem Post reported that the prosecutor in the German province of Lower Saxony, where Hannover is located, is also considering whether to pursue a criminal complaint filed against Shahroudi in that jurisdiction.
About 200 demonstrators gathered outside the Hannover hospital where he was staying on January 6 to protest the executions while he was Iran's justice minister.
The complaints against him claim he can be prosecuted under German law for alleged crimes committed in Iran. Shahroudi has not publicly commented on the accusations against him.
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Rainer Breul said on January 8 that Shahroudi sought treatment in Germany for a "serious illness" and that his request was granted after "credible health reasons" were given.
Bild reported that, if the German government determined that Shahroudi is considered to be a government office-holder, he could be granted diplomatic immunity from prosecution.
Shahroudi is currently a member of Iran's so-called Assembly of Experts -- a council of 88 clerics empowered to designate and dismiss Iran's Supreme Leader.
He also currently heads Iran's Expediency Council, which moderates disputes between Iran's parliament and a constitutional watchdog known as the Guardians Council.
"It would be a big mistake if the federal government provides diplomatic immunity here to the organizer of mass murders through Iran's justice system," Beck told The Jerusalem Post, explaining the reasons behind the complaint he filed against Shahroudi.
"Germany should not be a sanctuary for such people, who in their country persecute people for political or religious reasons and threaten them with death," he said. "The Iranian regime persecutes women who were raped, homosexuals, Baha'is, Kurds, and atheists."
Shahroudi headed Iran's judiciary for 10 years from 1999 to 2009. Amnesty International said that during that time he carried out more than 2,000 executions, including those of adolescents, while overseeing the torture of prisoners and arrests of political and human rights activists.
Shahroudi was a student of Iran's first supreme leader, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, and is viewed as a strict disciple of Khamenei.
Saba Farzan, the German-Iranian executive director of the Berlin-based Foreign Policy Circle, a strategy think tank in Berlin, told the Post that "this representative of the Islamic dictatorship shouldn't be on European territory at all," and criminal prosecution was "absolutely the right path to go."
"These human rights violators must learn that they can’t deprive their own citizens of their inalienable rights and then receive luxurious treatment – medical as well as political," Farzan said.
With reporting by Reuters, The Jerusalem Post, and Bild