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    News & Views

    Iranian Writer Escapes Possible Murder Attempt

    Rights Group Welcomes New Committee to Probe Murder Spree

    Human Rights Watch, (New York, December 16, 1998) - An Iranian writer escaped an apparent attempt on his life on December 13, the latest in a spate of killings of Iranian intellectuals and opposition figures. Human Rights Watch urged the government to take stronger measures to ensure the safety of independent Iranian writers and critics.

    Akbar Ganji, the editor of the recently-banned weekly newspaper Rah-e No (New Way), was approached by two unknown men as he was leaving his office in Tehran at 6:10 p.m. local time on December 13. Ganji had been held incommunicado for three months in early 1998 for criticizing government policies.

    The men asked him, "Where can we find Akbar Ganji?" Ganji, realizing that they represented a danger, did not identify himself but asked them who they were. After a brief exchange the two men ran away.

    In the current threatening atmosphere for Iranian writers, Ganji is in no doubt that the encounter put his life in danger.

    Human Rights Watch welcomed President Mohammad Khatami's announcement on December 14 of a special committee to investigate the killings. In the last four weeks, five Iranian writers have been killed, and several outspoken writers and opposition figures have been threatened.

    "President Khatami has encouraged writers and opposition figures to speak openly," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "Now he has a clear obligation to protect them."

    On December 9, Mr. Jafar Pouyandeh, a translator and writer, disappeared while on his way to a meeting of publishers in downtown Tehran. His body was found on December 13 in a Tehran city morgue. According to his family, Mr. Pouyandeh was apparently strangled, although no autopsy has yet been carried out.

    Human Rights Watch also welcomed the pledge on December 14 by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, to do everything possible to halt the killings. "Khamenei's intervention is important" said Megally.

    "But we now need to see him back the words up with deeds." Megally noted that Mohammad Yazdi, the head of the judiciary, which has been overseeing the investigation of the murders, has not publicly condemned the murders or promised to try to stop them.

    A background briefing on the murders of Iranian writers and opposition figures is attached. Please also check our website at for more details:

    Background Briefing On The Killings in Iran

    Five Iranian writers have been killed in the last four weeks in Iran. All of the writers were critics of the government; all lived in Tehran. The police have so far not announced any suspects.

    * Jafar Pouyandeh, a translator and writer, disappeared on December 9 while on his way to a meeting of publishers at 2.00 p.m. in midtown Tehran. His body was found on December 13. The family was contacted by the police who informed them that his body had been found in Shar-e Ray, a suburb of Tehran, and had been moved to a Tehran city morgue. According to the family, Pouyandeh was apparently strangled although no autopsy has yet been carried out.

    * The body of Mohammad Mokhtari, a writer and poet, was found in a Tehran city morgue on December 9. He was last seen alive on December 3, going to a local shop. Marks on his head and neck made it appear that he had been murdered, possibly by strangulation. Pouyandeh and Mokhtari had been summoned with four other prominent writers on October 1998 by the authorities in connection with their attempt to establish an independent writers association.

    * The body of Majid Sharif, a prominent writer and political critic, was found by police in a Tehran street and the family was able to identify it at the Tehran city morgue on November 24. He had disappeared on November 20. Sharif's articles criticizing government policies appeared in a monthly magazine, Iran-e Farda (Iran's Tomorrow), which was closed down by court order on December 5.

    * Darioush Forouhar, and his wife Parvaneh Forouhar (née Eskandari),were stabbed to death in their Tehran home on November 22. Forouhar was the leader of the banned Iran Nation Party and a former minister of labor in the transitional government of Mehdi Bazargan. His wife Parvaneh was a prominent critic of the Iranian government. The Forouhars frequently protested the restrictions placed on their nonviolent political activities by the Iranian authorities and had expressed fear about their personal safety. These murders appear to be part of a pattern of government-condoned repression directed against critics in Iran going back many years. Many killings of government critics over the last ten years remain unsolved.

    They include: Dr. Kazem Sami, a former minister of health in the transitional government of Mehdi Bazargan and leader of a liberal Islamic movement, who was stabbed to death in his office in Tehran in November 1988; Bishop Haik Hovasepian Mehr, who came to international prominence while leading a campaign for the release of Pastor Mehdi Dibaj and was murdered in January 1994; Hossein Barazandeh-Lagha, an independent Islamic scholar critical of the government, who was murdered in the city of Mashhad in March 1994; Pastor Mehdi Dibaj, who converted from Islam to Christianity, and had been imprisoned in Sari, northeast Iran from 1983 to 1994, and was killed in July 1994; Haji Mohammad Ziaie, a Sunni Muslim leader from Bandar-Abas, known to be critical of government policies, who was found dead in July 1994; Dr. Ahmad Mir-Allai, a member of the editorial board of the cultural magazine Zendehroud, who was found dead in the street in Isfahan in October 1995; Professor Ahmad Tafazzoli of Tehran University who was found dead in Punak, a suburb northwest of Tehran in January 1997; Ebrahim Zalzadeh, a publisher whose body was discovered at the morgue in the Tehran city coroner's department in March 1997; and Molavi Imam Bakhsh Narouie, the prayer leader of a Sunni mosque, who was killed in the town of Miyankangi in Sistan va Baluchestan province in June 1998.

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