Families still waiting six years after serial killings of intellectuals and journalists
Six years after a wave of murders of intellectuals and journalists in Iran, the Kazemi, Forouhar, Charif, Mokhtari, Pouyandeh and Davani families, and other families like them, still wait to know the truth about what happened to their loved ones, while the instigators and perpetrators of these killings celebrate six long years of almost total impunity that shows no sign of stopping given the frequent displays of judicial complicity and hypocrisy in these cases, Reporters Without Borders said today.
"The ban on any demonstration by the families of the victims to mark the sixth anniversary of these killings is a reflection of the obstructiveness and bad faith of the Iranian justice system, which is controlled by the conservatives in power," the organisation said.
Referring to the July 2003 murder of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian photojournalist of Iranian origin, Reporters Without Borders said : "In this case, the Iranian justice system gave yet another demonstration of denials of justice, manipulation and lies that guarantee lasting impunity for the instigators, especially when they hold high government positions."
One of the most outrageous examples of this impunity was undoubtedly the decision of Ayatollah Shahroudi, the judiciary's supreme chief, to appoint former intelligence minister Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi as state prosecutor in June of this year. Dorri-Najafabadi was alleged to have been directly involved in the serial killings but was never prosecuted.
Akbar Ganji, one of the few journalists to investigate these killings, has been imprisoned in Evin prison north of Tehran since 22 April 2000. He wrote several articles about these cases in the newspaper Sobh-é-Emrouz implicating religious affairs court prosecutor Mohseni Egeie and several political leaders including Ali Fallahian and Hashemi Rafsandjani, a possible successor to Mohammad Khatami as president.
As for the lawyer of the victims' families, Nasser Zarafshan, he was arrested on 7 August 2002 and is still detained. A military court found him guilty in March 2004 of "divulging case information" and sentenced him to five years in prison.
The wave of killings of intellectuals and government opponents took place in November and December 1998. The victims included liberal opposition figureheads Darioush and Parvaneh Forouhar, Iran-é-Farda editorialist Majid Charif and writer-journalists Mohamad Makhtari and Mohamad Jafar Pouyandeh.
These deaths had been preceded by a few months by the disappearance of Pirouz Davani, the editor of the magazine Pirouz ("Victory" in Farsi). His body was never found. All these cases were extensively covered by many pro-democracy news media. The intelligence ministry officially recognized in January 1999 that some of its agents were involved and announced dozens of arrests. Fifteen intelligence ministry agents were convicted in January 2001 for the murder of the Forouhars. Three were sentenced to death. The other 12 received prison sentences. Three other suspects were acquitted. The supreme court upheld the verdict but only two persons were sentenced to 15 years in prison. The authorities never tried to establish the circumstances Davani's disappearance and there was never any investigation into Charif's death.
None of the instigators of the 1998 murders have ever been questioned or detained. The victims' families, who are supported by Reporters Without Borders, have filed complaints before international judicial bodies.
There have been no limits to the judiciary's duplicity and hypocrisy in the Kazemi case. Arrested on 23 June 2003 while photographing the families of detainees outside Evin prison, Kazemi died in custody, probably on 10 July 2003. After trying to conceal the causes of her death for nearly a week, the Iranian authorities finally recognised that she was beaten to death.
Following an Iranian parliamentary enquiry and under heavy pressure from Canada and the international community in general, the judicial authorities named an intelligence agent who had been one of Kazemi's interrogators as the person responsible for her death. He was charged and then acquitted in a sham trial on 24 July 2004.
Lawyers acting for the victim's family requested that Mohammad Bakshi, an Evin prison agent working for Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi, and five other senior judicial officials present during Kazemi's interrogation, should appear at the trial. But the Tehran court refused and concluded the trial in two days. Yet various Iranian commissions of enquiry had implicated these officials.
A few days after this parody of justice, the Iranian judicial authorities revised the findings of the investigation and announced that Kazemi's death was "accidental."