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Who killed five journalists in Iran?

NUJ | 21.01.2002 15:27

Five journalists were killed in Iran between November 1998 and February 1999. The Iranian authorities announced that "rogue elements" in the security services had carried out the killings, and some Ministry of Information employees were tried in secret for the murders. The trial was condemned as a sham by the victims' families, their lawyer (who was arrested on the eve of the trial) and human rights and journalists' organisations internationally.

Who killed five journalists in Iran?
Who killed five journalists in Iran?

Serial murders of writers and journalists in Iran

Now copies of videotapes have come into the NUJ's possession that appear to show these "rogue elements" being beaten and mistreated, and then confessing to fantastic "crimes" including working for foreign intelligence agencies, blasphemy, adultery etc. On 21 January 2002 the National Union of Journalists released those tapes at a press conference and, in co-operation with Indymedia, on the world-wide web.

So, if the trials were, as the videos appear to show, based on ridiculous and coerced confessions - who was responsible for the murders?

Below is the background to the killings and subsequent "confessions".

On this page:

View CD 1:

The drama began in November 1998, when secular opposition leader Dariush Foruhar and his wife, Parvaneh, were stabbed to death in their Tehran apartment. Within weeks, three leading journalists-writers outspoken in their demands for greater freedom of expression in Islamic Iran - Majid Sharif, Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Pouyandeh - were also found murdered.

Early in 1999, authorities announced that a circle of "rogue" intelligence agents had carried out the killings, but without the knowledge of top intelligence ministry officials. Then, in June 1999, the agent named as the mastermind behind the assassinations, Saeed Emami, was reported to have killed himself in prison by drinking a bottle of hair remover. Defendant Ali Rowshani admitted murdering Mokhtari and Pouyandeh. But he said he had done so under orders from Mostafa Kazemi, a former head of internal security at the intelligence ministry and another man, Merhdad Alikhani. Another pair of defendants admitted killing the Forouhars, a husband and wife found dead at home from multiple stab wounds. They too said they had received orders from Kazemi and Alikhani. Another man said he had assisted in the murder. Kazemi was reported telling the court on Saturday he had been the mastermind behind the killings, while Alikhani said the decision was taken "collectively."

Amid the firestorm of controversy and public outrage, journalist Akbar Ganji published a book and a series of articles alleging former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was linked to the murders. Two pro-reform journalists and a former interior minister said the real number of those killed was as high as 80, with murders and mysterious disappearances stretching over a decade. They say that senior clerics conspired with high-ranking intelligence officials to carry out the murders. The two journalists and former minister are now in jail.

In early December 2000 a lawyer for the families of Mokhtari and Pouyandeh, Nasser Zarafshan, was jailed after claiming other people had also been killed and that the assassinations had been ordered by religious decree.

No photos of the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence tried in Dec 2000-Jan 2001 were published, their identity remained a "state secret". Most Iranians are convinced their "confessions" are part of a deal to allow them freedom after the trials, irrespective of the verdict.

The trial was held in secret and the security forces' official report is the only reporting of the proceedings.

One of the accused, Kazemi, who claimed last week to have ordered the killings, has previously maintained that the orders came from Dorri Najaf Abadi, Iran's minister of intelligence at the time of the murders.

Iran's supreme leader had claimed on a number of occasions that these murders were acts of sabotage by foreign powers and that the "rogue agents" were working for US and Israeli Intelligence, yet the court never took up this claim.

On the 5th of January 2002, the chair of the "Parliamentary Commission" on National Security hinted that the special squad responsible for serial political murders in Iran has been reorganised and is starting its activity again. Mohsen Mirdadmadi, a leading member of the coalition supporting Khatami referred to the disappearance of journalist Siamak Pourzand and a young cleric kidnapped in Ghom.

On Sunday the 13th Jan 2002 the MP for Tabriz, Akbar Aalami, informed fellow MPs that a young cleric Nazem Zadeh ( son of a well known cleric) was kidnapped in Ghom, he was tortured for 6 days and told to confess receiving money from Foreign Radio stations (including the BBC) to act as a contact with Ayatollah Montazeri. Nazem Zadeh was then left semi conscious in Tehran. Mr Aalami implied involvement of sections of the security forces in this kidnapping.

Summary, with transcriptions, of Video CDs received by The International Tribunal on Crimes against Humanity in Iran

What’s on the videos?


The videos, received in Video CD (VCD) format, appear to show the interrogation of former agents of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence about their part in the serial political murders of writers and journalists in 1998-99.

The videos appear to have been made in the detention centre of Iran's military security agency. They consist of recordings made with interruptions, and it also appears that parts of different tapes have been cut and spliced together, with interruptions between episodes concerning different prisoners. Irrespective of whether the videos are genuine or forged, they have certainly been made as part of an attempt to support the "theory" repeated on a number of occasions by Ayatollah Khamnei (Iran's supreme leader) that "rogue agents" within the Islamic Regime's Ministry of Intelligence were acting on behalf of the CIA and Israel.

It should be noted that in the videos the clothing worn by the prisoners is the type of uniform given to political prisoners. The sequence and method of questioning is exactly as reported by anyone who has come out alive from such interrogations, i.e starting with accusations of personal "sins" (adultery, blasphemy etc) leading to treason. The prisoners are sometimes told to go and write confessions in their own hand, and the interrogators are often not satisfied with the written confessions. The interrogators are also keen to portray president Khatami in a negative manner by saying he supported their methods, which had already been sanctioned by Khamnei. Whenever the interrogators start to use violence against the prisoners, the tape is interrupted or the violence continues away from the camera.

The videos appear to show the interrogation of the first group of people known to have been arrested in connection with the serial murders, i.e. those arrested with or immediately after the arrest of Saeed Emami (Eslami) a high-ranking security official in the Ministry of Intelligence.

Those arrested according to agencies were: Mostafa Kazemi, Mrs Emami (Eslami), Pur-Mohammadi, Pur-Fallah, Akbarian, and Taheri.

Three of these appeared in the trials of agents of Ministry of Intelligence, accused of "masterminding and executing serial political murders". They were: Mostafa Kazemi (sentenced to four terms of life imprisonment), Alireza Akbarian (acquitted), Morteza Fallah (one term of life imprisonment). These sentences were passed on 27 January 2001.

Note: times are given in minutes and seconds from the start of each tape.

CD 1

What can be seen are apparently extracts from over 300 hours of film left by the interrogators of the first group of "agents" arrested, following the dismissal of Mr Nizai and his team from investigation of "serial political murders". They depict the atmosphere of questioning faced by "agents" of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence during interrogations that lasted until March 2000.

still from CD1
Interrogation of Seyyed Moussavi
The first man interviewed is assumed to be Seyyed Moussavi (the interviewer calls him Moussavi at minute 0.54), who also uses the name Mostafa Kazemi, a former head of internal security sentenced to four terms of life imprisonment in last January's trial (minute 1.06).

still from CD1
Interrogation of Mrs Emami
The woman witness is supposed to be Mrs Emami (Eslami) the wife of the ex deputy minister of Intelligence Saeed Emami (Eslami). She is told that she and others in their group have been followed for months and that they have all been arrested.

The interrogator tells her that she is wrong if she thinks that because of the current political atmosphere (i.e. the "reformist" initiatives of Khatami, etc) they will not arrest a woman. That isn't true. The first three are told by various interrogators that they had "illicit" relationships with each other's spouses. In this section of CD 1 they all deny this.

still from CD1
still from CD1
Interrogation of Morteza
The interrogators (heard but not seen) tell the male prisoner, who they call Morteza, that they are acting under the direct control of Khatami. They threaten one of the accused that they will flog him, hit him so much that he will confess to everything.

Minute 3.00-4.00 The interrogator accuses the prisoner of moral corruption and he denies it.

The shots in minute 6.00 are sounds of beating and pleas for help. In the next round of interrogation the man named Morteza is beaten while his interrogators talk.

Minute 9.00-9.21 the prisoner appears to be beaten up.

still from CD1
still from CD1
still from CD1
still from CD1
2nd interrogation of Mrs Emami
Minute 9.43 the woman assumed to be Mrs Emami is returned to interrogation. She ends up admitting that she took a "security" report to Canada to give to the CIA.

The interrogators then tell the woman (assumed to be the wife of former Deputy Minister of Intelligence in Iran) that she has to explain her visits to Israel. At minute 11.33, she keeps saying she has never gone to Israel and repeats this a number of times. The interrogator tells her, what if we do something that forces you to admit that you have gone there, what will you say.

Minute 12.0 they insult her relationship with her husband.

They repeat their accusations that she had "illicit relations" with other men, including that she claimed to be pregnant from one of these ex-agents. The interrogators keep telling her that they will really hurt her where it matters. She keeps denying accusations that she connected agents to each other.

They also keep telling her that she was a nymphomaniac and call her a dirty whore.They also tell her to confess how her husband brought men home for her pleasure. An interrogator is named as Mr Ameli. She finally confesses to this series of accusations, including sex with other men. They then accuse her of lesbian relations. The interrogators then appear to talk to each other about giving her 70 [? sound of number not clear] lashes in order to get the "rest of the truth". She confesses that she was involved with Moussavi (a.k.a Mostafa Kazami) in putting a bomb in Tehran. The interrogators are not happy and take her (limping) to another session of beating, she keeps pleading that she will confess if they leave her alone.

The next scene shows her walking in pain. The film is then interrupted, and then another woman and man are interviewed briefly.

Another prisoner (unidentified, bearded) is told by the interrogators that he was asking to meet Ayatollah Khamneii's security chief. He claims he wanted to warn the security chief of the dangers of Friday prayers. The prisoner not only denies this but also says he is great admirer of the supreme leader. The interrogators then tell the prisoner he is definitely the man who killed "Sayyad". The interrogation continues after an interruption for lunch and the next scene shows the prisoner pleading his innocence and crying. He swears on religious imams that he is not guilty. He is thrown off his chair (minute 36.0).

The tape is interrupted. In the next section, Moussavi (a.k.a. Kazami) is being questioned. The interrogators tell Moussavi (a.k.a. Kazami) that he has now been in prison for a while. They tell him that he drank alcohol and that they have witnesses. Regarding a further accusation of fathering a child, the prisoner says that if they did a medical test they will find out he is not responsible.

The man is shaking (minutes 40.55 to 41.22) at the end the interrogator reminds him that he entered prison is Dec 1999. Later, as he leaves the room, the interrogator is heard saying: remember the number of this room, 402, we will hang you upside down here.

The next interview starts minute 41.45. The accused, also unidentified, is told that he was not a Muslim but a Bahaii, pretending to be a Muslim. He is told: this room is number 404, remember this number. In this room the last words will be said to you; when you leave this room you realise what will happen to you; there will be two barrels and a piece of wood and a noose to hang you; Your wife has confessed all. He pleads (minute 60.00) and he is told by the interrogator to shut up. The interrogator adds: in order to close this dossier and stop public attention [regarding the serial murders of writers and journalists] we are supposed to release a number of names, claiming them as culprits, and even announce that these people were already killed, tnat nothing is hidden from us. The unidentified prisoner writes a note at the end admitting that he received last warnings and he has nothing else to say.

CD 2

still from CD2
Interrogation of Mrs Emami - ca. 13m16s
Mrs Emami is again interviewed. She is asked about a bomb placed in Tehran prosecutor's office. She denies this repeatedly, but she says, of course if I am beaten up I might admit to it. The interrogator then tells her to imagine that she is repeatedly flogged, what would you say. The prisoner says, yes I will admit to anything then. The interrogator says imagine you are really severely beaten, tell us how you planted the bomb. The interrogator says, now you are bleeding. She says, maybe I took it with Haj Ghassem. The interrogator says, imagine you are now beaten up even more, that "you can't tolerate the pain". The prisoner starts saying, may be there is a car entrance ... she is then pressed to tell the exact day when the bomb was planted. She is beaten up with a shoe. [Note: some interpretations of Islam would disallow beating a woman by hand on religious grounds]. The interrogator say: "you are like an insect, while we crush you". She is seen being beaten up again with the shoe. She still denies that she planted the bomb.

Minute 21.17 The interrogator says: We are the judge the jury and the trial in this case.

Minute 38.31 The interrogator says: once we flog you the version of events you give will be exactly what we want, eactly what we got from Saeed Emamai. Here we beat you so much in this very room where everything happens, we will get all the confessions. There will be no trial, no newspaper report. (Minute 40.13) The interrogator says, you have shown you are of the same ilk as "shemr" (the devil, enemy of Shia Islam).

CD 3

still from CD2
Interrogation of Akbar - ca. 03m30s
A prisoner, whom the interrogators call Akbar, is asked how the bomb was placed in Khomeini's tomb and who pushed the button. The prisoner replies, Majidi. The interrogators comment how well he is and how he has recovered. As he bends his head and cries (minute 1.09), the interrogators ask themselves why he is doing this. They ask him if he would like not be hurt any more. They ask why should we take pity on you. The prisoner says in six months he has been beaten up more than 40 [or 60, the sound isn't clear] times. At minute 2.28, he pulls down his trousers to show the signs of flogging. At minute 3.31, the interrogator is seen slapping the prisoner while questions continue. At minute 4.00, in a conversation that takes place outside the camera shot, the interrogator tells the prisoner he will die under "shallagh" (flogging) and his faamily will never see him again. He is also told that the interrogation is sanctioned by Khatami and Khamneii, and that Khamneii has told Khatami to pull no punches in order to get results. They also tell him he is very likely to be hanged as they plotted a coup d'etat.

still from CD2
Emami - hearing more screams 13m18s
(Minute 8.33) The woman, assumed to be Mrs Emami, is returned. The interrogators keep telling her that she showed disrespect to Koran. She says we put the Koran out of our life and we didn't read it any more; "we threw it down".

(Minute 10.07) The sound of someone screaming from pain is heard. She is reminded by the interrogator that they can cause her a lot of pain, as she can hear from screams next door. On at least three occasions the interrogator tries to make her confess where her and her husband took the Koran, and how she showed disrespect to the Koran. She refuses to admit anything more. But finally, the interrogator step by step gets her to say that they tore papers from the Koran. She confesses, with a lot of help from the interrogator, that she and her husband touched each others' bodies with pages of the Koran during sexual intercourse.

At minute 13.18, a woman is heard screaming in the background. The interrogator asks the woman prisoner, will you confess to all? and ask for redemption? At minute 14.01 she is asked who she thinks Said (her husband, ex deputy minister of Intelligence) worked for. She replies: probably for CIA, the interrogator tells her to forget about "probabilities". The interrogator tells her that you even know who was his CIA "contact" was. She volunteers the name "Mojtaba Amiri". and she then tells the interrogator you knew him (Saiid Emami) better than me, you worked beside him. The interrogator says: OK, we know he came back to Iran in 1363 (1985 in the western calendar). She moves on her chair, obviously in pain, and says, probably he started working with the CIA when he was in the US.

still from CD2
Emami - "swear on your children's life" 15m15s
Minute 13.41 Screams of pain are heard in the background , the prisoner assumed to be Mrs Emami swears on her children's life that she is doing her best to answer. Minute 15.12 she pleads with interrogators to take her hand and lead her out of the room. She says she will do anything, they ask her to answer the questions properly, she returns having written some replies to their questions. At minute 16.18 she is asked how many times she went to Haj (journey to the holy places at Mecca) last year, and she gives details, including details of who she went with. The interrogator tells her weren't you ashamed of yourself. She says we did propaganda for Iran and the Islamic revolution, the interrogator asks her what she did with contacts they found in Mecca. The film is interrupted again.

At Minute 16.59, she returns (wearing different clothes) and says her husband worked for the CIA while she worked for Israel. The interrogator asks her who, between Israel and the US, did Said favour. She replies, the US. They ask her, how about you. She first says I preferred the US but I worked with the CIA, and then corrects herself and says no I mean I preferred the US but I worked for Israel. "They are the same after all." The interrogators tell her not to confuse her answers. They ask her if the bombing of "behsht zahra" (i.e. cemetery near Tehran, it is unclear from the tape whether this is another reference to Khomeini's grave) was the work of US and why. She seems totally confused. The interrogators then tell that her husband [before his death, which was allegedly suicide] had told them about her weakness, that she is a nymphomaniac. They then tell her (minute 19.15) that she is making fun of them. She is given time to take her pill. The CD is blank until minute 19.55. The interrogators don't accept her answers and she changes her story, she says: we are a branch of Mossad in Iran.

There then follows detailed questioning regarding her sexual behaviour and relationships with various men. She keeps using words such as, "do I have to guess", "probably", etc. They tell her not to use this words. At minute 22.30 she is asked about her sexual relations with a young man named as Mehdi. She says she was training him as a security agent, and teaching him how to woo women as part of his job as an agent of the Ministry of Intelligence. They keep telling her she is not saying enough and as soon she says she doesn't know an answer they taunt her that she will be executed.

At Minute 26.12 a man is interrogated the interrogator calls him "Samimi", and says when are you going to give up this pretence.

The interrogator calls him dirt, pimp. With reference to his written the interrogators say that they are not complete. The interrogator then says, do you want me to write the confessions. He says I went to Niavaran, Hashem was there, this was part of the route. The prisoner then asks the interrogators to tell him what they should say. The interrogator tells him, "you eat shit, admit that". The interrogator keeps calling him a pimp, and tells him, we want to hurt you they will beat you up (minute 34.00). The prisoner describes how he was involved in a plot of the "special forces" but refuses to involve another man named Ghassem, despite repeated questioning by the interrogator about "Ghassem".

At Minute 40.25 the prisoner, called Said by the interrogator, is told to correct his story or else he will be beaten to death. They threaten to kill him and leave his body in a well. Minute 42.27 he say he doesn't know. He is beaten by his interrogator. The prisoner mentions a visit with Falahian, the Minister of Intelligence, but the interrogator is only interested to get the reply he wants. [This is an extraordinary admission, because the prisoner is suggesting he was taking ministerial orders, and no attention is paid to it by the interrogator.] Beatings and swearing follow. Minute 45.46, he is asked, why does he keeps changing his written confessions. The tape is interrupted.

Minute 49.33: Prisoner Moussavi ( Mostafa Kazemi) is asked about his alleged crimes. He says this was a duty given to me by others. The interrogator is not happy about this prisoner's story. [Note: After Kazemi was given four life sentences, the heaviest punishment imposed by the court, his lawyer stated that he had constantly maintained that he was following religious duties and orders from superiors.]

The prisoner continues: I left the house at 6am and got to the place at around 8.00. Minute 52: another prisoner is brought in (the one accused of being a Bahaii) and is told to write a request for a "paternity" test regarding an illegitimate child. However the prisoner is adamant he is not the father .

Then there is a last interview with Mrs Emami. Here she confesses to working for Israel and the US, and even to "cannibalism", which she says was part of Israel's plot. The interrogators are still not happy; she is seen crying and in a very disturbed state.

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Display the following 2 comments

  1. Staggering — Dan Anchorman
  2. What are Mossad upto? — @lex
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