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Iran Acts Quickly to Close Case of 4 Slain Dissidents

By Geneive Abdo
International Herald Tribune
January 29, 20001

TEHRAN Iran's powerful religious conservatives were quick to declare on Sunday that a military court's decision to impose death sentences on three Iranian secret agents convicted of killing four dissidents in 1998 meant that the case was closed.

The warning, issued through the conservative daily newspaper Resalat, brought into sharp focus the clash between religious conservatives and reformers, who have charged that as many as 80 dissidents were slain in the last 10 years on orders from the highest ranks of the Iranian government.

The warning came after the judge in the case said the killers had a list of 40 more people targeted for assassination, a statement that supports reformers' claims that the killings were part of a broad campaign of terror.

The military court judge, Mohammed Reza Aqiqi, on Saturday sentenced the three agents to death for carrying out the killings of the four dissidents, Darioush and Parvaneh Forouhar, Mohammed Mokhtari and Mohammed Jafar Pouyandeh.

Five other defendants, including two former Intelligence Ministry directors, Mostafa Kazemi and Mehrdad Alikhani, were given life terms for ordering the killings, according to the 17-page verdict made public after the trial, which was conducted in secret. Seven others defendants received lesser jail terms and three of the 18 accused, all intelligence operatives, were acquitted.

Few details surrounding the month long trial emerged because the judge barred the public and the press from the courtroom, saying that secrecy was necessary to protect national security. The judiciary has vowed to prosecute anyone making "unauthorized revelations" about the case.

"The judge's verdict is the last word," the Resalat newspaper said in an editorial published on Sunday. "Criticism of the judge, his verdict or the judiciary must not take place."

The case made public some of the worst misdeeds of the Islamic regime. And it brought to a head the institutional power of the conservatives in the judiciary, the clergy and the intelligence service, who are pitted against President Mohammed Khatami, who ordered that a special commission be established to investigate the killings.

The newspaper Doran-e Emrouz, which is allied with the reformers, reported on Sunday that Judge Aqiqi had said that Mr. Kazemi and Mr. Alikhani had prepared a list of up to 40 victims to be targeted for assassination.

The reformers have long argued that the four murders were part of a planned drive to stifle dissent and cement the conservative establishment's hold on power.

Two journalists and a former vice president said responsibility for the murders went much higher, involving senior clerics, state officials and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The allegations have all been denied.

Despite these claims, it is unlikely the verdicts will lead to further revelations. In his ruling, Judge Aqiqi noted that he lacked the authority to pursue aspects of the crimes punishable under Iran's Islamic code.

Intelligence Ministry officials said the killers were rogue agents who had eliminated enemies of the regime on orders from their immediate superiors, without the knowledge of top officials.

When the intelligence service announced in January 1999 that rogue agents were responsible for the killings, the intelligence minister, Qorbanali Dorri Najafabadi, was forced to resign in what was widely seen as the first step by President Khatami to gain control over the state security apparatus. But that effort was quickly derailed.

The most senior government agent arrested in connection with the killings, identified as Deputy Intelligence Minister Saeed Emami, died in custody after supposedly drinking hair remover. Many observers are skeptical of the official coroner's verdict of suicide.


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