Closed Trial in Iran Raises Skepticism
By Geneive Abdo
International Herald Tribune
January 3, 2000
TEHRAN A sensational trial the government vows will get to the bottom
of state-sponsored death squads is prompting skepticism among many who
say the closed hearings will protect clerics, intelligence agents and high-ranking
officials behind the killings.
Since the sessions began more than a week ago, charges from pro-reform
politicians that the wrong defendants are on trial have renewed national
tensions that the state intended to quell by bringing the case to court.
"The court hearings on the serial murders case are not satisfying
public opinion," said Naser Qavami, head of the parliamentary committee
on judicial affairs. "It seems there is no hope that this court will
administer justice properly."
Eighteen so-called rogue agents from the Intelligence Ministry are on
trial on charges of murdering four liberal dissidents in late 1998: the
nationalist politicians Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar and the writers Mohammed
Mokhtari and Mohammed Jafar Puyandeh.
[Four defendants confessed in court Tuesday to involvement in the 1998
assassinations, according to state radio, Agence France-Presse reported.
[Three admitted to personally carrying out some of the murders, and
a fourth said he had supervised the killing of Mr. and Mrs. Foruhar, it
Another defendant, Mostafa Kazemi, a former Intelligence Ministry internal
security chief, confessed last weekend that he had been behind the murders,
but no details have been made public.
Two pro-reform journalists and a former interior minister say the real
number of those killed was much higher, with murders and mysterious disappearances
stretching over a decade. They say that senior clerics conspired with high-ranking
intelligence officials to carry out the killings. The two journalists and
former minister were punished for their statements and are now in jail.
The judiciary, dominated by conservative clerics, has vowed to prosecute
anyone else making "unauthorized revelations" in the case.
Conservatives cite what they say are links between the reformist camp
and the killers, with the murders designed to discredit the clerical establishment
and force an overhaul of the security services.
The case began unraveling in January 1998, when in an unprecedented
admission the Intelligence Ministry said that renegade agents had been
responsible for the murders. But the first blow to public confidence came
in June 1999 when the authorities announced that the ringleader, a deputy
intelligence minister, had died in prison after drinking poisonous hair-remover.
Many remain skeptical of the official ruling of suicide.
Two journalists, Akbar Ganji and Emaddedin Baqi, then published a series
of allegations that linked the so-called chain murders to the hard-line
clerical establishment in what they said amounted to a campaign of state-sponsored
Confusion set in within the top ranks of the government, and different
judiciary special commissions and prosecutors came and went.
The presiding judge in the current trial contributed to the skepticism
by barring the public and the news media from sessions to protect national
security interests. "Who can guarantee that an open court would not
provide information to the enemies outside the country?" Judge Mohammed
Reza Aqiqi said.
The case, which initially was regarded as a test of President Mohammed
Khatami's promise to cleanse the ministry of political crimes, is seen
as a revelation of his lack of power.
"It seems, unfortunately, that the judiciary system and some officials
in the judiciary think they can do anything they like and no one dares
to question them," said Akbar Alami, a member of Parliament.