The political extra judicial executions of autumn 1998 in Iran- And what happened since.
By Parastou Forouhar
In the evening of 21 November 1998, my parents Dariush and Parwaneh Forouhar, who were two of the leading opposition politicians in Iran, were brutally murdered in their house in Teheran. For years both of them had fought for establishing the foundations of a democratic government. They campaigned for the separation of state and religion.
I travelled from Germany to Iran and on 25 November 1998 was confronted with the bodies of my parents, disfigured by numerous knife wounds. The burial ceremony became a huge demonstration. More than 100000 people took part in it, and shouts for democracy and justice could be heard all over.
But the killing continued. During the following weeks, another three dissident intellectuals, Majid Sharif, Mohammad Mokhtari, and Mohammad Jafar Pooyandeh, were found murdered. In the course of the customary mourning wakes, the people continued their demonstrations. A great deal of support and solidarity was expressed by the Iranians in exile, the International Human Rights Organizations, as well as within the state institutions and parties in the democracies outside Iran. Together, all these people launched the biggest protest ever against the violation of human rights in the Islamic Republic.
Those dissidents, executed extra judicially, in autumn of 98, were not the first victims of such acts of violence. Over the years, dissident politicians as well as intellectuals who had actively fought for freedom of speech were found dead in the street or in their homes, not only in Iran, but also abroad. Concerning the cause of death, official statements always spoke of heart failure or motives of personal revenge. The actual reasons were never brought to light. This time, however, the growing wave of protest made it impossible to uphold this type of cover-up.
When my brother and I were questioned by the appointed examining Magistrate, whether we could give them any hints that might help to clear up the murders, we told the officials that the Ministry of Information had continuously kept our parents hause under surveillance and that the investigation of this fact should have priority. The families of Mokhtari and Pooyandeh also referred to the political dimension of this crime. Madjid Sharif’s death was officially described as “heart failure” and his family felt unable to counter this statement.
On 5 January 1999, the Ministry of Intelligence admitted something, everybody had long since suspected: the fact, that members of this ministry were amongst the suspects.
Immediately after, the records covering the enquiry into the four murder cases, - those concerning the couple Forouhar, M.Mokhtari and M.J. Pooyandeh- were turned over to the military prosecutors, without any reasons being given. This controversial procedure enabled the persons responsible, to carry out all investigations in secret. Our protests were ignored.
For months, the responsible chief of the military prosecution authority refrained from making pertinent statements. In the few statements he did make, he often contradicted himself.
On 20 June, 1999, he named four people as being the killers. At the same time he stated that one of the culprits, Said Emami, had committed suicide by swallowing a depilatory substance. The positions of these persons in the ministry of information and their political connections and convictions were not made public.
However, many facts were brought to light by investigations of the reform-orientated press. It became known that the culprit who apparently took his own life in prison had been working as deputy Intelligence Minister for years and had, in the end, been employed as adviser to the Minister of Intelligence in office at the time. The press also seized on the part played by ex-Intelligence Ministe Hojat-ol-Islam Falahian and ex-state president Hojat-ol-Islam Hashemi Rafsanjani in creating an organization for suppressing and eventually „eliminating“ the persons who held opinions that ran contrary to the official views.
During my next visit to Iran in June 1999, the office of the military prosecutor granted me six appointments. However, I received only very general information and the prosecutor tried to convince me that the investigations were being carried out conscientiously. My repeated questions as to the background of the crime remained unanswered on the grounds that the matter touched on matters of internal security and must be kept secret for the time being. The efforts of our lawyers to gain access to the files were refused for the same reason.
On 4 August 1999, an official statement of the military prosecution authority was published - that was a few days after the student demonstrations - in the course of which the murder of my parents was publicly denounced by the demonstrators. In the official statement the whole series of murders was, for the first time, declared to be a „state affair“. The group of suspects from the ministry of Intelligence were accused of further crimes, although no details were given. The official statement on the crimes was: „The culprits had not intended to strike at the opposition but at the government itself in order to internationally damage the reputation of the Islamic republic.“
Concerning the question of who was behind these crimes and pulled the strings, several high-ranking members of the government, among them the leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khamenei, maintained from the beginning that foreign enemies of the Islamic Republic were responsible for the murders.
During one of my appointments with the military prosecution authority, I mentioned the matter of the “string pullers”,they replied that foreign espionage organizations were involved, although solid proof was still lacking.
They further promised that the lawyer of our family could inspect the pertinent files. Hoping that this would actually come about, I returned to Germany, but the inspection remained a promise.
In November 1999 I went to Teheran once again to take part in the ceremony held on the occasion of the first anniversary of my parents’ death. The procession numbered thousands of mourners who proclaimed their belief in the political work of Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar and demanded that the murders of autumn 1998 be cleared up.
In the course of this stay I spoke three times with the responsible military prosecutor. During our first meeting I took up the subject of the inspection of the files he had promised to grant our lawyer.
He replied that the statements of the suspects touched on matters of national security and that he could not give this permission until the investigations had been concluded.
In the spring of 2000 the files were handed over to another group within the military prosecution authority, a fact that was not made known officially at the time. It was rumoured in the press that the files had disappeared. Intensive efforts of our lawyers to clear up this question remained unsuccessful. In April 2000 I again travelled to Iran. Several days passed in which I was sent from one office to another, and it was only after I had sent a letter to the president of the judiciary that I got an appointment to see the examining magistrate. The latter informed me that the file had to be revised, as it contained a great deal of irrelevant information. He did not answer any of my questions.
In September 2000 the investigations of the military prosecution authority were declared finished and the files were sent to the court of justice. A period of ten days was set to inspect the records. I read through the files, which comprised well over a thousand pages and made detailed notes, as I was not allowed to copy anything. The lack of pertinent dates and controversial information suggested that there had been many cover-ups. Our lawyers submitted a list of dubious facts to the authorities.
As for who the real “string pullers” were, investigations had not been thorough enough: the accused mentioned that the order to murder the people in question had been given by the Minister of Intelligence; the latter, however, was not questioned. Even the statements of the adviser to the Minister, Said Emami, who later apparently committed suicide in prison, were removed from the files, although he was officially listed as a suspect.
In the available records of the other suspects several pages were missing. Of the 18 suspects listed, only two were imprisoned at the time; the others were released on bail. The latest questionings of these people showed that all of them continued working in the Ministry of Intelligence! When I asked the examining judge, whether this was true, he replied that he considered my question irrelevant.
The list prepared by our lawyers cited numerous other faults and inconsistencies and questioned the whole procedure. In a letter to the president of the judiciary I pointed out these inconsistencies and asked for a review.
On 21 November 2000, the ceremony in remembrance of my parents was held. Again, thousands of people took part in it.
At the end of November 2000 the authorities declared that the files had been revised and were now complete. The beginning of the trials was set for the 23 December 2000. Once again I went to Teheran in order to read the revised files and to satisfy myself that the statements of the prosecution authorities were indeed true. Our list of faults and inconsistencies concerning the files had been disregarded. Merely two pages had been added: the statement of Hojat-ol-Islam Dori Najafabadi, the Intelligence Minister who had been in office at the time of the murders. The statement showed that the Minister denied having been the initiator of the murders. He was spared the usual methods of investigation and his statements were in no way challenged. The statements of the culprits that they had been perpetrating murders, - systematically and for many years -, as a part of their duties in the Ministry of Intelligence were not taken into account.
Reacting to the nearly unchanged files I wrote a letter to the chief of the judiciary in which I listed all questions that, in the eyes of the plaintiffs, remained unanswered. I asked for an appointment which was denied to me.
On 20 December 2000 we, the families of the victims, officially informed the court that we would not take part in the proceedings, because of the inconsistencies and faults in the files. On the same day the military court informed the public of our decision. It was announced at the same time, that the trials would take place as planned, as we had not withdrawn our charge, and that the public prosecutor could plead our cause during the proceedings.
We filed a complaint with a parliamentary commission, (The so-called Article 90) which has been appointed to supervise the work of judicial authorities. On 24 December 2000, we were asked to attend a hearing before this commission. We presented the evidence, which supported our criticism of the investigations as well as of the proceeding of the military court. The parliamentarians agreed with our point of view and promised to support our request within the scope of their powers.
The trial took place in twelve sessions behind closed doors. Of the eighteen culprits named in the files, two of them as the “string pullers” were put away for life. Three further individuals, who had actually committed the murders, were sentenced to death. The rest were imprisoned for varying periods.
Following Islamic law, the responsibility for carrying out the death sentence was adjudged to the direct descendents of the victims familys. The court acted, as if the murders had been perpetrated for personal reasons. The underlying political and religious motives of these extra judicial executions were never mentioned. The fact that these crimes were planned and committed by a state institution was completely left out of consideration.
We, the family members of the victems, addressed a statement to the public: We made it clear that we were not out for personal revenge, but endeavoured to shed light on crimes committed against people who held different political opinions. We stressed, that we shared the political aims of the victims and, for that reason, were against the death sentence.
The verdicts were referred to the next higher court of appeal.
On 19 March we were summoned to the second hearing before the parliamentary commission. Their efforts to examine the files had come to nothing. Again we were promised that the matter would be pursued.
In June 2001, upon a request by the members of the parliamentary commission, we forwarded a more detailed petition.
In April 2001, in a letter to the chief of the judiciary, I had listed the deficiencies of the investigations and asked for a careful revision of the files. I never received an answer to my letter.
On 18 August 2001, it was publicly announced that the verdicts of the court had been revised and that the proceedings had been declared unsatisfactory. Our efforts to gain access to the opinion of the court and to participate actively in the coming proceedings failed. I personally was sent to and fro between the military and the civil court without the slightest success.
On 22 November 2001 the anniversary of my parents’ death was held, and once again thousands of people took part in it.
In winter 2001, Dr. Nasser Zarafshan, a lawyer of our family and family Pooyandeh, was taken to court. Among other things, he was accused of activities against the internal security of the state. A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice had, at this time, forbidden any statements concerning the investigations of the extra judicial executions of autumn 1998. Dr. Zarafshan had declared this prohibition unlawful and had ignored it. In March 2002 he was condemned to five years in prison as well as to seventy lashes of the whip. Although he had lodged a protest against this verdict, he was arrested in July 2002.
On 27 May 2002, the military court, in a public statement, announced new verdicts. At this time we had not even known that the court had reopened the case. The death sentences were commuted to ten years imprisonment. The prison sentences for the helpers of the actual murderers, who had previously got sentences of up to fifteen years, were reduced to three to four years, which meant that they could now be released.
The military court justified these new sentences by our renunciation of the death penalty. Once again it shifted the responsibility for its verdicts to us, the families of the murdered.
On 28 May 2002, my brother and I made our position clear in a public statement. In this statement and during the following interviews we insisted:
· that we had officially renounced the death penalty because we felt committed to the political and moral principles of our parents, and that equating our rejection of the death penalty with “forgiving” connstitued a misuse of justice in our eyes.
· that we consider the efforts of the legal authorities in this case as an attempt to hush things up rather than as an effort to bring the relevant facts to light.
· that the clearing up of the political murders in Iran cannot be brought to an end with these verdicts, neither in our eyes nor in the eyes of the public.
In the end of September 2002, another lawyer of our family instituted proceedings against Hojat-ol-Islam Dori Najafabadi, who was Intelligence Minister at the time of the extra judicial executions, with the highest public prosecution authority in Iran. He based his charge on the official statements of the accused. The accused, all members of the ministry of information, had stated that they had been given the order to murder the persons in question by the minister in office.
Previously, this aspect had not been investigated officially. A copy of the charge had been lodged with the parliament as well as with the President of the Islamic Republic. Up till now our lawyer has not received a reply from either.
The commemoration of the fourth anniversary of my parents death took place on 22 November 2002. In spite of the massive presence of security forces there were several thousand participants.
The readiness of the population to resist the official pressure, which had grown during the students‚ protests, erupted on this day.
In my speech during the gathering I announced in the name of all the victims fmilies of autumn 1998, that we demanded an investigation of these crimes by the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations, as we had come to the conclusion, after four years of intensive efforts, that the department of justice of the Islamic Republic was not prepared to do its duty and clear up the murders.
I have also asked all those who share our opinion to express their opinion by signing an appeal written by us.
In spite of massive attacks of hired gangs of thugs, hundreds of people came to the house of my parents that night in order to sign the proclamation. Meetings also took place in other cities in Iran, which were also attacked by armed thugs.
This big wave of protest shows, that the political murders of autumn 1998 have not been forgotten, and that their clearing up has become a basic goal of the resistance.
Since we initiated our petition campaign, a great many Iranians have signed it. Among the signatories in Iran are three ex-Ministers and several members of the government who belonged to the first cabinet after the revolution, several well-known lawyers, journalists, university professors, as well as members of the opposition and the writers association. Even from abroad, our appeal to the human rights commission of the United nations is firmly supported by Iranians in exile.
We hope that our request will, in the long run, find international support as well.