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You will answer, one day
Four years after the murder of the translator of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, his wife still seeking justice

By Sima Sahebi
Translated by: Iran Human Rights News
December 12, 2002
The Iranian

It was exactly on December 3, 1998 that my husband came to me with the news of Mohammad Mokhtari's disappearance. "We must do something," he said. "We can not sit still while writers are detained one by one."

He used the word "detain" with certainty, as though there could not be another outcome to the fate for the country's writers. The next day, a Friday, we kept asking ourselves, whose turn will it be next time? We had sort of guessed what it would be after the death of Majid Sharif, and the Forouhars.

In reality we could not see the relationship between the killings and the disappearance of Mokhtari. On Sunday the 6th of December 1998, my husband, Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, and others, met in the office of the Iranian Writers Association to discuss Mokhtari's disappearance as well as how to provide security for others. But how could the association, which was a legal and open organization, provide security? They were not a political organization that could go underground as soon as they felt danger. Secrecy was not in its nature, so it was a difficult decision.

During this time, my husband was working with publishers to have his book "Questions & Answer about Human Rights" published. He wanted it to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Universal Human Rights Charter. Article 19 of the declaration states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

My husband had translated it in his book, but he and all those around him lived in constant fear and harassment. The fear that 134 of them felt was for having written the famous letter best known as "We are the Writers" and defended their opinions as writers, in the journal Jameeh Salem on September of 1998 in defense of the Charter of the Writers' Association, or when summoned by the revolutionary courts.

Finally, on December 9, 1998, my husband left the house for work at the Cultural Research Institute. On that agonizing day, his friends had warned him not to go anywhere alone since the vultures of death were waiting in the streets to hunt them down one by one.

He would not listen to me as I insisted that he should stay. "At most, they would arrest or put on us on trial," he said. But it never crossed his mind that this time the story may have a much more tragic ending. It never crossed his mind that his friend, who was kidnapped Thursday afternoon, would be killed. He said "This was not the first time that they had arrested Mohammad (Mokhtari) and taken him to an undisclosed location. They would release him again after a few days."

I could never understand his optimism. I felt that maybe he was just saying this to calm me down, that in a way, he was aware of the coming tragedy.

I returned home from work at 8 PM. Nazanin was very distressed. She said that her father should have been home by 5, but there was no news of him. Without expressing anything to Nazanin, I read the whole story to the end. When I called Mokhtari's home to see if I can find him there, I learned that his body had been discovered. All my fears had turned into reality. And I could see what my husband's fate. I was all alone now with a heavy burden. I found a new strength in myself.

I notified his close friends. I visited all the hospitals near his office as well as the police stations. Early the next day, with a letter in my shaking hand I visited the presidential office. In the letter I had asked the President to have the Judiciary do all in its power to locate my husband. Despite my persistent requests, I was unable to meet President Khatami, but they did take the letter and told me he would reply. I returned home, hopeless. I told them "You will respond? When it's too late? I want an immediate answer. I want security for my husband's life." But they sent me home.

Sleeplessness and running around for 24 hours had taken its toll. But I felt that I had to do everything in my power. Maybe there was still a chance. My last hope was the coroner's office. I kept visiting the morgue in search of my husband's body among the dead. When I did not find his body, I still had hopes.

The phone rang at 7 PM on the 11th of December. It was from the security forces in the Shahriar district of Karaj, informing me that they had located a body that matched the descriptions I had provided earlier. I could not cry. Finally -- after three days, there was news of his whereabouts.

Along with one of his friends, I drove toward Shahriar. While driving, he turned to me and told me: "I hope they have found the body, otherwise you will live with uncertainty and in hope of his return the rest of your life."

At that very moment, I thought of his words as very cruel. But later on when I found out about the fate of Pirouz Davani -- who is still missing -- and how his family would have been even happy to see his body, I understood the meaning of those words. Not to mention what went through our minds that evening until about 8 am when finally my brother was able to recognize his body in the mortuary.

I do not remember anything from that time except the cries and my denial of his death when I kept asking my brother whether he was sure it was my husband's body. I did not have the energy to look at his body or even try to deny that he was really dead. While grieving, the phone constantly rang and the journalists kept coming to our small apartment, crudely reminding me of his death. Although I had not slept for four days, I was still able to answer the reporters and defend the rights of these writers whose only crime was to voice their opinion.

It was December 7th when the publisher of my husband's book came to visit me. He said very nervously, "Finally his book will be published on the very same day that Mohammad wanted." I believe his book, the fortieth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights and the death of my husband was no coincidence and I saw him as a victim of his own intention to publish the Declaration of Human Rights especially the section that pertains to freedom of speech.

When we were preparing for his funeral procession, Nasser Zarafshan came to see me. It was the first time I had seen him. He said that he voluntarily accepts the legal case of my husband's death and that he would do all he can to bring light to the truth about these murders.

Internal and international protests against these murders were gaining momentum. From local to foreign media and independent organizations to PEN, the word was spreading around. Popular protests and the important role of free press as well as the heroic work of journalists forced the government to make an official statement. It blamed the murders entirely on the Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic.

This official confession on the months of September/October 1998 was a turning point that spread hope among all Iranians and the families of the victims. It indicated that for the first time a legal case would be dealt with on a national level.

But these false hopes disappeared quickly with our futile visits to the military tribunals. Officials of the Judiciary, under the pretext of preserving national security declined to release any information to us or to our lawyers. They were hoping that by prolonging the time of their investigative process, in essence all memories of this national crisis would eventually fade away.

In December of 1999, the first anniversary of Mokhtari and my husband's death was organized in Tehran's Fakhrodoleh Mosque. Nasser Zarafshan, pointing to the huge participation of the people, reminded us that the murders would never disappear from the people's memory.

Finally in September/October 2000, nearly two years of waiting, they announced that the investigation had ended and that our attorneys had 10 days to review the case. At the end of the 10 days, our attorneys provided a list of deficiencies to the presiding judge.

One important area of deficiency was the total elimination of Saeed Emami's confession. Mr. Nizai himself had declared that if he (Emami) were still alive, he would have been sentenced to death. But his confession was thrown out since the judge deemed it unrelated to the case. How could the confession of someone who was the assistant to a ministry and a person who would have been sentenced to death had he been alive, was irrelevant to the case, is beyond our comprehension. One day, this same judge must answer to the Iranian people.

Finally, the case was turned over to the military tribunal for further investigation and to resolve all the discrepancies. Unfortunately, the case without resolving any of the related issues was turned over to the courts and a date of December 23, 2000 was set for trial. But the families of the victims under protest boycotted the trials.

Exactly 10 days before the trial, the courts arrested Nasser Zarafshan for having publicized the case. I was also arrested for publishing a letter criticizing them for not allowing us to hold a memorial of the second anniversary of their death. I was released that night after posting bail, but a case was created against Mohsen Hakimi, a friend of my husband's and I. They told us that we could select an attorney to defend ourselves. The trial begun under these conditions: detainment of Nasser Zarafshan, the attorney for the case, as well as the arrest of one of the victim's family members!

With our hopes in the judiciary system gone, we turned our attention toward the 9th Commission of the Majlis in the hope that maybe the legislative body would help us shed some light. In our three meetings with their representative, we brought up the main deficiencies of the case and requested that they, as the representative of the people to take action on this national case and to report their findings to the people.

In the midst of all these events, the courts announced their verdict in the case of the serial murders: three counts of Quid Pro Quid against the three who had committed the murders, two counts of life imprisonment for Mostafa Kazaemi and Mehrdad Alikhani for ordering the murders as well as the same verdict for the remaining defendants.

These verdicts were announced in such a manner as though they were committed in the private domain and not on a national and political one. In their written statement, it was very clear that they considered these events as normal crimes and not one involving one of the key organs in the government -- the Ministry of Intelligence.

Mr Zarafshan, in his report to the people, which was published in the papers, announced that those who were directly responsible for these crimes were released on bail for $12,500 pending the trial that lasted for two years. They were only arrested close to the date of the trial after the families protested. It's an astonishing phenomenon that in the legal circles in Iran, someone who has committed murder can be released on a $12,500 bail, while Mr. Zarafshan's bail was set at $50,000.

2001 was a hopeless year for the Judiciary. In a single sentence they told us they would investigate the case but until today, we have not even seen a single page of their findings. In April/May of 2001 our trial began in the revolutionary courts and we were cleared of all charges.

On April/May of 2002, the trial of Nasser Zarafshan began and he was sentenced to 5 years jail and lashing. On August of 2002, his verdict was finalized and he was sent to prison where he joined the rest of the journalists who had gone to jail for telling the truth about these cases.

With the ending of the investigation into the Autumn 1988 serial murders, and it's link with the tragic trial and imprisonment of our lawyer, Zarafshan, the families were forced to ask the help of the international community and ask the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations to investigate the truth behind these crimes.

Official declaration of their intent by Parastou Forouhar in the anniversary of the death of her parents Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, was in essence the beginning of this demand and as we have always declared, this case will never end until the whole truth comes out.


Sima Sahebi is the wife of Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh.

Footnotes by Iran Human Rights News

* Dariush Forouhar, and his wife Parvaneh Forouhar (née Eskandari), was stabbed to death in their Tehran home on November 22, 1998.

* Police in a Tehran street found the body of Majid Sharif, a prominent writer and political critic, and the family was able to identify it at the Tehran city morgue on November 24. He had disappeared on November 20, 1998.

* The body of Mohammad Mokhtari, a writer and poet, was found in a Tehran city morgue on December 9, 1998.

* Pirouz Davani, Disappeared August of 1998. Presumed dead his body has not been found.

* Saied Emami, Deputy for Security Affairs of the Ministry of Intelligence, was the mastermind behind the chain Killings of 1998. He "committed" Suicide while in prison.

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