An explosive Iranian government dossier reveals that Iran’s most senior official, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, personally ordered the murders of hundreds of opposition activists and intellectuals. In addition, then-President Mohammad Khatami, whom the West considered a moderate, helped cover up the regime’s deadly deeds, according to the documents, which were leaked to a domestic opposition group.
The revelations come as the Obama administration has repeated its calls for “negotiations without preconditions” with the Islamic Republic of Iran leadership, and amid reports that former Defense Secretary William Perry has been discussing security-related issues with senior Iranian officials on Obama’s behalf.
They also come after Khatami stated that he is contemplating another run for president this spring against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Khatami was president for two terms, from 1997-2005. He was elected as a reformer but after a brief period of press freedom, his government shuttered newspapers and spearheaded a crackdown on dissent, including the violent quashing of the student rebellion in July 1999.
Since the revelations of his complicity in the coverup of the killings surfaced in the Persian-language media, Khatami has indicated that he might not become a candidate this year.
In releasing its 138-page report in Persian, the opposition Marze Por Gohar party said the documents reveal the government’s fear that Western powers might overthrow the regime by sparking civil disobedience and mass protests.
The documents “show that the Islamic leaders themselves view their victory in the 1979 revolution as the culmination of a velvet revolution and are still very sensitive that the same process that toppled the shah and brought the mullahs to power could be repeated, this time against the mullahs,” the Marze Por Gohar (MPG) report says.
The assassination of political dissidents “was routine, and has been ongoing for years,” the report states. “There has been no period of time during which the regime has been idle and has not assassinated some targeted group. This includes today.”
Although international human rights organizations have known for years that the Iranian government regularly sends hit teams to eliminate dissidents, this is the first time that direct, documentary evidence alleges that the supreme leader personally ordered these killings and ties key politicians, such as Khatami, from the ostensibly pro-Western faction, to the murders.
The military court compiled the sprawling dossier summarized in the MPG report during the court’s investigation of the 1998 “serial murders” of Iranian dissidents Daryoush and Parvaneh Forouhar and others.
The Forouhars were murdered in their home and their bodies were mutilated by government intelligence officers acting on direct, explicit orders from their superiors, the documents show. Two days later, the same hit team assassinated human rights activist Mohammad Mokhtari and writer Mohammad Ja’afar Pooyandeh.
The Iranian government continues to claim that a rogue faction within the Ministry of Information and Security carried out the murders, and it briefly jailed some deemed responsible.
After extensive criticism from family members and their lawyers, who boycotted the open court sessions because they were not allowed to see the evidence, the regime granted them access in December 2000 to the military court’s investigative files.
However, they were given just 10 days to review the court files and voluminous interrogation transcripts, and were not allowed to make photocopies. Instead, they took detailed notes and in some cases made exact, hand-written copies of the most important documents, including the lengthy confessions of the assassins.
Some lawyers and family members have commented about what they learned, without referring to specific documents in the military court dossier.
Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning lawyer who represented the Forouhar family and was given access to the military court’s investigation reports, says the security ministry operatives the government accused of being “rogue” agents didn’t understand why they were put in jail.
“Some of the accused showed surprise during their interrogations and asked why they were being tried,” she said. The leader of the hit team told the court to “go and look at my paycheck stub . . . That night [the night of the murders] you paid me overtime.”
Abdol-Karim Lahiji, a human rights lawyer based in Paris who also represented victims’ family members, said, “None of these assassinations could have taken place without religious edicts and orders” from the top leadership.
He warned the son and daughter of the Forouhars “not to delude themselves: The Islamic Republic is not the kind of regime that would actually punish the perpetrators of these murders.”
In June 2001, Parastoo Forouhar, the daughter of the slain political leaders, wrote to Hossein Ansari-rad, the chairman of a special parliamentary committee established to review the investigation, to complain about missing evidence and other irregularities.
The interrogation transcripts of the two main ringleaders, Mehrdad Alikhani and Mostafa Kazemi, were “in the shape of long-winded statements in the style of a novel, not in the usual interrogative style,” she wrote.
“Those who are familiar with the technical issues of such investigations will recognize such statements when the accused and the interrogator have reached an ‘understanding’,” she said.
In his reply, Ansari-rad said his committee was forced to shut down its own inquiry because the evidence “led to some persons the parliament is not allowed to question.”
Under the Islamic Republic constitution, Parliament can question government ministers, and even remove the president, says MPG founder Roozbeh Farahanipour. “The only person it cannot question is the supreme leader.”
In the excerpts quoted in the MPG report, the statements of Alikhani and Kazemi, whose bosses at the intelligence ministry called them “specialists” — are damning.
Alikhani describes how he would select, kidnap, and execute dissidents to fulfill an annual quota for extrajudicial killings that the security ministry gave him.
Kazemi, who was Alikhani’s direct boss, acknowledged that he ordered the murder of hundreds of dissidents in Fars province and in Tehran the previous 18 years as an official with the Revolutionary Guards Corps and later, the security ministry.
Kazemi also stated that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei sanctioned the murders by issuing a fatwa, or religious edict, and that the supposedly reformist intelligence minister, Hojjat-ol eslam Dorri Najafabadi, took an active role in the assassination plots.
In the transcript, Kazemi referred to Khamenei as “Agha,” a term that means “sir” in Persian but is used exclusively when speaking about a government official in Iran today to mean Khamenei.
Dorri Najafabadi, Khatami’s appointee as intelligence minister, was never accused of a crime and now is prosecutor general, the equivalent of attorney general.
In releasing its report, Marze Por Gohar made its own political motives clear. “The new generation must strongly distance itself from the existing tradition among opposition groups of only defending those victims of the Islamic Republic who are close to their own ideology of type of activities,” the group said in its preface to the report.
“The regime always conducts its strikes in a focused way, leading others to think they are safe until their turn comes.” This has led dissidents to “refuse to defend those under attack, and sometimes consider it as a convenient event for them, watching their rivals being eliminated by someone else.”
MPG notes that the intelligence ministry still has an annual quota of political assassinations but often allows field operatives and lower-level officials to choose the targets.
“MPG emphasizes the need to publicize all regime atrocities and all secrets in a quick and timely manner,” the report says. “Saving lives should be at the forefront of everyone’s concern, taking precedence over smaller and more selfish agendas . . . The best revenge is saving lives.”
Joining Farahanipour in founding MPG were others involved in the July 1999 student uprising in Tehran. The group calls itself “Iranians for a Secular Republic” in the English version of its Web site.
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