Exclusive: Iranian Dissident Journalist Who Disappeared In Turkey Ends Up In Custody Of Iran's Revolutionary Guards

By Golnaz Esfandiari

An Iranian dissident journalist who disappeared in Turkey in May is now in the custody of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), sources with knowledge of the case told RFE/RL.

Mohammad Bagher Moradi was deported to Iran in early November after being kept in "illegal" detention in Turkey for five months, the Turkish lawyer representing his family, Salih Efe, told RFE/RL.

Moradi's family said he left his home in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on May 30 to buy bread and never returned. The next day, his car was found abandoned near his residence, Turkish media reported.

Turkish media reported that Moradi's family, who were visiting from Tehran, had filed a criminal complaint over their son's disappearance and told the local prosecutor's office that they suspected he had been abducted. Despite the launch of a formal investigation, Moradi was not found.

In June, Turkish media quoted the journalist's father, Mohsen Moradi, as saying that his son had been "kidnapped" by "Iranian intelligence."

Following months of silence, Moradi on November 4 made a brief telephone call to his family and informed them that he was in Iran in the custody of the "intelligence bodies," sources with knowledge of the case told RFE/RL. Moradi told his family that he was moved to Iran just days prior to his call, the sources said, adding that the journalist has since made two other calls to his family.

The sources said that Moradi was being held by the feared intelligence branch of the IRGC, which has been behind the arrests of scores of journalists, activists, environmentalists, and dual nationals in recent years.

Last week, Moradi's father was questioned by the IRGC about his son's activities in Turkey, the sources said. They added that the IRGC told him to advise his son to make a live television confession.

Iran has a record of forcing political detainees to confess to crimes that are often dictated to them by their interrogators. Many former detainees have denounced the practice following their release and said they had confessed under duress.

'Secret Deportation'

The 34-year-old Moradi fled to Turkey in 2014 after he was sentenced to five years in prison in Iran for collusion against the state.

Efe, the Turkish lawyer representing his family, told RFE/RL that Moradi had been granted asylum in Turkey. He said Moradi's secret deportation to Iran was a blatant violation of Turkish and international law, including the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

Efe said Moradi had told his family that he had been kidnapped by Turkish intelligence officers and kept in an unknown location until his deportation. The lawyer said Moradi had been interrogated and tortured during his detention in Turkey.

"This may be the fourth or fifth such illegal and secret deportation of an Iranian political refugee from Turkey by our government," Efe said. "I think Turkey cannot be considered a secure country for Iranian refugees."

Turkey, which lies on Iran's western border, is one of the main destinations for Iranian dissidents and activists fleeing the country. But it has also become a prime hunting ground for dissidents by Iranian intelligence, or those who work for Tehran's security agencies, leading to concerns about the safety of Iranian nationals. Moradi's fate is likely to heighten those fears.

London-based Iranian activist Peyman Aref, a former refugee in Turkey, told RFE/RL that Moradi said a year before his kidnapping that he felt threatened by Turkish intelligence agents.

"He spoke on Clubhouse last year and revealed that an individual...who works for Turkish intelligence is trying to recruit Iranians," Aref said, referring to the audio-based, social-media application that has become a major platform for dialogue among Iranians. "He ended his remarks by saying that 'from now on Turkish intelligence will be directly responsible if anything happens to me.'"

In 2017, Aref was deported from Turkey to Lebanon after being detained by Turkish security forces, his lawyer told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. Aref claimed he was deported after refusing to cooperate with Turkish intelligence.

Iran is known to have assassinated or abducted multiple exiled opposition figures in recent years, including journalist Ruhollah Zam.

Zam, the manager of the popular opposition Telegram channel Amad news, was executed by Iran in 2020 after being convicted of "corruption on Earth," a charge often leveled in cases involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran's government.

Zam had been living and working in exile in France before being arrested in 2019 under still unclear circumstances. According to media reports, the dissident was allegedly lured to neighboring Iraq by Iranian agents.

Habib Chaab, a founder and former leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA) separatist group, went missing during a trip to Istanbul in 2020.

A month later, Chaab appeared in a video on Iranian state television in which he claimed responsibility for launching an attack and working with Saudi intelligence services. Chaab, who had lived in Sweden for 14 years, was later put on trial.