Parastou Forouhar’s speech
10 years have now passed since the political murders in autumn 1998.
My parents, Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, two leading opposition politicians, who had fought for democracy and the separation of religion and the state for decades, were the first victims of this series of assassinations.
Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Djafar Pouyandeh, two members of the writers’ guild, Madjid Sharif and Piruz Dawani, political activists, and the poet, Hamid Hadjizadeh, together with his ten-year-old son, Karoun, were further victims of these political crimes.
The victims of autumn 1998 were not the first in the series of political assassinations. Dissidents, who had been actively engaged in freedom of speech movements, both within Iran and abroad, had already become victims of such state violence years before.
This time however the public were devastated. Thousands demonstrated and numerous articles appeared trying to shed light on the case backgrounds. The biggest protest against a violation of human rights in the history of the Islamic Republic was being driven along collectively.
This growing outcry, both in Iran and internationally, made it impossible for the regime to maintain its typical tactics of cover-ups, manipulation and suppression of the truth.
In January 1999 the state secret service confessed in an official statement that members of the Ministry were responsible for the murders.
Subsequent promises for investigation made by the powers that be in Iran were little more than appeasement for the protestors and turned out over time to be a political strategy of delay.
Handing over the investigation to the Military Prosecution was the first step. This illegal act allowed those responsible to carry out their full investigations out of the public eye. The protests against this confidentiality were ignored.
The investigations lasted for two years and were characterised by the contradictory statements of those responsible. For example, the religious leader of the Islamic Republic named the intelligence services of Israel and the USA as having masterminded the murders. Reform-minded politicians however saw their fundamentalist rivals as those behind the crimes. I travelled many times to Iran in those two years. I called upon the officials relevant to the investigation innumerable times but was never given reliable information. I was treated as little more than an annoyance who should receive the full force and arrogance of a judicial bureaucracy that wasn’t anxious to investigate the murders.
The legal process had just been the façade of a regime that was seeking to simulate an investigation.
In September 2000 the investigation was declared closed and a ten-day period of file access was fixed for the lawyers of the victims’ family members.
I travelled once more to Iran to read the file, which was more than one thousand pages long.
During this period, we, the lawyers of the family members and I, attempted to take detailed notes as copying was not permitted.
Missing data and contradictory statements pointed towards several cover-ups.
The reasons of the masterminds and the ideological and bureaucratic organisations that lay behind the murders had not been determined here:
In their testimony, the accused claimed that the orders to murder came from the incumbent Minister of Information. This testimony was however spared from the traditional interrogation methods. The interrogation protocols of the Minister’s advisor, who was officially named for a short while as the main accused, had been removed from the file. There were also numerous pages missing from the remaining interrogation protocols, which still existed and that we had access to, of the other 18 accused.
The culprits’ terrifying statements pertaining to systematically carrying out the “physical elimination” of the opposition, that had apparently been part of their duties at the Ministry of Information, were ignored.
The obvious concealment measures demonstrated in the trial process were met by public disbelief and protest.
We, the family members of the victims and our legal representatives, refused to take part in this farcical excuse for an investigation, as it was clearly inadequate.
The proceedings took place in our absence behind closed doors. Of the eighteen culprits named in the file, three were sentenced to death for having committed the murders. The other involved parties were given prison sentences of varying lengths or were set free.
The right to enforce the death sentences, in accordance with Islamic law, was awarded to the most senior members of the victims’ families, as well as having to bear the responsibility of the death penalty, which was forced upon them in a perfidious manner.
The court acted upon the matter as if the murders had been carried out for personal reasons. The underlying political and religious motives behind the murders were not mentioned. The fact that these crimes were planned and carried out by an organ of the state was ignored.
We, the relatives, declared that it was not a matter of personal revenge for us; instead it was an investigation into political murders. We stressed that we felt connected to the political goals of the murdered and would therefore reject the death penalty.
In May 2002, we were made aware of new sentences that had been delivered in an official statement from the Court of Appeal. Up until this point in time, we hadn’t even known that the court had re-opened the investigation.
The death sentences had been changed to ten years imprisonment. The periods of incarceration for the other culprits had also been substantially reduced. The court justified the new sentences exclusively with our rejection of the death penalty and interpreted this as forgiveness on our part. The responsibility for the court’s sentences was once again conferred onto us, as the relatives.
In response we insisted in a public statement that equating a waiver of the death penalty with “forgiveness” represented an abuse of jurisdiction in our eyes and that we saw the legal system’s cover-up strategy in this case as another crime.
After these verdicts, the file was officially closed.
An appeal that we filed with a special commission of the parliament suffered the same fate. The chairman of this commission reported in a 2003 interview that they had not been able to complete their inquiries as their investigation had “come across people who couldn’t be summoned!” – this was his verbal explanation and proof of our years of conviction that the persons behind the ordering of these murders were able to enjoy inviolable immunity courtesy of their high positions in the system.
In 2003 we applied for an inquiry into these crimes at the relevant institutions for Human Rights at the United Nations, as it had been made apparent to us after years of intensive efforts that the justice system of the Islamic Republic was not prepared to fulfil its duty.
This motion has however also remained fruitless to this day, as the judiciary of the Islamic Republic has continually denied giving answers and statements necessary for the inquiry.
10 years have now gone by! 10 years of memories pertaining to a series of unsolved political crimes! 10 years of insisting on the right to truth and justice! 10 years of stagnation in resistance to a despotic system of power! 10 years of fighting against the distortion of meanings and content! 10 years of defence against lies!
10 years have gone by and I ask myself if this passed time has disconnected us from these crimes. If all of our efforts invested in the investigation could produce a tangible distance to these crimes.
I can’t find answers to my questions.
And I know in spite of all this that I will not give up: I will not stop remembering and reminding others. I will not stop calling it a crime and demanding justice.
Every year I go back to my parents’ house in Tehran on the day the crime occurred, the anniversary of their deaths, to where they once lived, worked and made a stand against the dictator, to where they were viciously stabbed, numerous times, to death at midnight on the 21st of November 1998.
This house, which was once my parents’ house, has now become a space of contrasts. On the one hand it is the place where I grew up, felt love and security and where I got to know the hopes and ideals of my parents. It is a place filled with their lives, their laughter and their sincerity. On the other hand it is also a place that has become the scene of my parents’ murder, where their screams of pain echo from the night they met their deaths!
It is a place where the beautiful and the terrible are inseparable.
This is what it looks like: this picture of my house in Iran is a little reflection of my homeland!
I am committed to persevere and to remember!
I also went back to my parents’ house this year to hold a memorial service for them on the anniversary of their deaths. And I was forbidden from doing so this year too. The regime’s security forces blocked both sides of the narrow street, on which the house is located, with barriers at 8 a.m. and filled the area with their agents, large vehicles and cameras that detect and monitor every movement.
Nobody is allowed to visit the house. My family, my old grandmother, my aunts, my brother and I, were not allowed to receive guests or to leave the house!
This is how the hours of these days went by, locked in, branded forbidden. Banned from remembering the crimes that occurred in this house, banned from remembering the lifework of two brave people that once lived here!
This ban however paradoxically testifies to the fact that the memories and the perseverance for justice have not ceased to exist. And with this knowledge my hopes for the future are renewed with energy for further resistance.