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Victims' families boycott trial of 16 'rogue' agents

By Chris de Bellaigue in Tehran
The Independent
26 December 2000

Sixteen "rogue" secret agents and their accomplices were yesterday answering charges related to the 1998 serial murders of dissident intellectuals on the second day of Iran's most important trial in recent years. Cartoon here

But the families of the victims are boycotting the trial, which is being held behind close doors.

Their complaint is the case file that has been prepared for the trial of the 16 members of Iran's feared Intelligence Ministry and a driver. The authors of this file, say lawyers, have tried to protect senior politicians alleged to have ordered the murders.

"The most important points have been taken out," says Siyavash Mokhtari, the son of assassinated writer Ibrahim Mokhtari.

But the deeper problem is the failure of Iran's reformist government to fulfil promises to enlarge democracy and make the justice system work not just for the powerful religious conservative elite, but for all Iranians.

Hopes ran high when President Mohammad Khatami forced the Intelligence Ministry to admit responsibility for the killings.

Since then, however, these hopes have dissipated. Last year, the key witness "committed suicide" in jail ­ his confessions have apparently been expunged from the case file.

Earlier this month, one of the families' lawyers was arrested for revealing, among other things, that the defendants had confessed to two other murders. Neither of these murders is being investigated.

Akbar Ganji, a journalist who last month claimed that a former intelligence minister and a senior conservative judge had ordered the murders, is behind bars.

Mr Ganji says the murders number not four, but about 80 ­ most of them committed during the presidency of Mr Khatami's predecessor, Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Saeed Hajarian, the Khatami aide said to possess the most information about the murders, was shot and almost killed this year by an Islamic militant.

Mr Mokhtari says: "Those forces that ordered the murders have tried at every step to obstruct those seeking justice."

Of the seven-man core of a key Iranian writers' association, Ibrahim Mokhtari was one of two serial murder victims. Two more were on a notorious black list of dissidents apparently selected for "execution". Another fled abroad.

Mr Mokhtari, says his son, was given "friendly warnings" several times, and twice he attended closed court hearings, which he was ordered not to discuss.

"There is no way to prove it but I think it was at this time that they issued a death sentence against him."

Shortly afterwards, Mr Mokhtari was bundled into a car in Tehran's busy Africa Avenue. A few days later, Siyavash Mokhtari identified his father's corpse. He had been strangled.


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