By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A senior Iranian diplomat linked to Iran's reformists has been detained for nearly two months and is in solitary confinement at Evin Prison, a facility rights advocates have criticized for prisoner abuse, sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
Bagher Asadi, who was previously a senior diplomat at Iran's U.N. mission in New York and was most recently a director at the secretariat of the so-called D8 group of developing nations in Istanbul, was arrested in mid-March in the Iranian capital, sources said last week on condition of anonymity.
"He is being held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison," a source told Reuters, adding that it was still unclear what the grounds were for his detention.
Iran's U.N. mission did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Iran's judiciary and Foreign Ministry have confirmed the 61-year-old Asadi's arrest but given no details as to why he was being held. The sources who spoke to Reuters about Asadi's detention say it may be linked to Iran's June 14 presidential election.
A February 2013 report by U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, described a number of cases of alleged torture and abuse, including beatings and solitary confinement, at Evin Prison.
The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch has in the past called on Iran to end solitary confinement and other abuses at Evin Prison.
In January 2004, Asadi wrote an opinion piece that ran in the New York Times in which he made clear his affinities with the reformist philosophy of reformist Mohammad Khatami.
Iran's reformists have been sidelined since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the conservative former mayor of Tehran, won the presidential election in 2005, replacing Khatami.
Some analysts say Iran's Islamic clerical leadership is worried about the risk of serious unrest in the June 14 election and is cracking down in advance.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has suggested Asadi's arrest may have been a mistake.
"It's unfortunate that there has been a misunderstanding regarding Mr. Bagher Asadi, one of the highly skilled and valuable experts in the foreign ministry who has a good track record and from whom we have seen nothing but efforts to secure the country's interests, and we are hopeful this misunderstanding will be resolved," Salehi said.
Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Asadi in 2003 to a panel of eminent persons on U.N. relations with civil society.
In March U.N. rapporteur Shaheed said Tehran's silencing of journalists and opposition leaders could jeopardize the legitimacy of the presidential election in June.
Opposition leaders Mehdi Karoubi and Mirhossein Mousavi, both candidates in the 2009 presidential election, are under house arrest following mass protests over alleged fraud in the re-election of Ahmadinejad that year.
(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)