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Revealed: role of a president in the murder of his people

By Robert Fisk in Tehran
The Independent (London)
8 March 2000

In the wave of half-freedoms that have followed last month's pro-reformist elections in Iran, the dark and sinister political role of ex-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani ­ once the most powerful man in the Islamic Republic ­ is at last being revealed in Tehran.

Mr Rafsanjani, who first disclosed the Iran-Contra scandal, is being linked to at least six senior Iranian government officials who, during his presidency, ordered the secret execution of more than 80 dissidents, intellectuals and criminals. The ex-president, it now transpires, also appointed members of his own family to high positions in the lucrative oil ministry in Iran.

As the political star of Mr Rafsanjani falls through the firmament so the revelations about his 10-year presidency and its nepotism are being uncovered. The names of at least seven men with whom he dealt ­ some of whom are said to have issued "fatwas" ordering the death of dozens of innocent Iranians during Mr Rafsanjani's rule ­ are known in Iran but have never been published before: they include Ali Fallahian, former head of intelligence, Ali Razini, who was head of judiciary powers in Tehran ­ he is now a member of the "special" clergy court ­ and Mustafa Pourmahamadi, the former deputy intelligence minister in charge of international affairs.

The "death squad" committee also included Ruhollah Hosseinian, who is currently head of Iran's "documentation centre", two ayatollahs ­ said to have signed a decree ordering the murder of "apostates" ­ and Said Emami, the ex-deputy intelligence minister in charge of "operational" affairs. Mr Emami was found dead ­ murdered with a potassium injection ­ while in prison for allegedly ordering the murders of intellectuals during the presidency of Mr Rafsanjani's successor, Mohamed Khatami.

Many in Tehran believe Mr Rafsanjani was himself a member of the "killer" committee. The murder victims include the translator and writer Saidi Sirjani, killed by injection in 1994, Ahmed Mirallai, another writer who was knifed to death, Ahmed Taffozoli, who died in a car "accident", and Ibrahim Zalzade, a journalist also knifed. Also among the murder victims was a middle-aged woman, Fateme Ghaemmaghami, a mother of three.

At least three Sunni Muslim clerics were liquidated. An Armenian Orthodox priest was killed after his name appeared on the intelligence ministry execution list.

Iranian journalists have already been asking what Mr Rafsanjani knew about the "fatwas" for the execution of intellectuals, although The Independent is the first paper to print the names of those known to be on the execution committee. Akbar Gangi, the most prominent investigative journalist in Tehran, has written a book about the committee ­ without giving names ­ called The Dungeon of Ghosts, in which he refers to another cleric as "the éminence grise". Already Mr Gangi has received death threats by phone and fax. "My friends have said to me that the only way of protecting myself is to give an interview," he said. "The information I have about the murders is exact and very sensitive ­ 90 to 100 people were killed."

Equally earnest if less grave questions are being asked about Mr Rafsanjani's family. His son Yasser, it is clear, worked in the procurement section of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) while also running a private company connected to NIOC. Mr Rafsanjani's nephew Ali was a deputy minister of oil while another son, Mehdi, was employed in the national gas company, NAFT-va-GAS.

Stories of Mr Rafsanjani's wealth have spread throughout Iran and were one reason for his failure to gain more than 25 per cent of the vote in last month's elections. He spends several weeks a year in a villa north of Tehran where gazelles graze amid parkland and hills guarded by special security police.


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