Impunity reigns in murders of journalists in Iran

On the 20th anniversary of a wave of murders of Iranian journalists and intellectuals, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for justice to be finally rendered by prosecuting the perpetrators and instigators of these crimes, many of whom hold senior public office today in Iran.

RSF marked this tragic anniversary by organizing a commemorative event yesterday evenng in Paris attended by leading Iranian human rights defenders including 2003 Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, the lawyer of the families of the victims, and Abdul Karime Lahiji, the head of the Iranian League for Human Rights and honorary president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

Those attending also included the writer Parastou Forouhar, who is the daugher of Parvaneh and Darioush Forouhar, two well-known intellectuals and members of the liberal opposition, who were found stabbed to death in their Tehran home in 1998. In the presence of these human rights defenders, RSF called on the Iraqi authorites to end the decades-old tradition of impunity for crimes of violence against journalists.

“We will not abandon this now 20-year-old fight for justice,” RSF advocacy adviser Sophie Busson said, opening the event. “This is not just about preventing people from forgetting. Bringing those responsible for these murders to trial and tracking down the instigators also means giving journalists the ability to pursue their courageous reporting mission today.”

Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran-Afghanistan desk, appealed to the international community, including Javaid Rehman, the new UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, to support the families of the victims who filed complaints with international bodies 16 years ago.

As well as Darioush and Parvaneh Forouhar, the many intellectuals and government opponents murdered in November and December 1998 included Majid Sharif, a columnist for the monthly Iran-e-Farda, and the writers and journalists Mohamad Mokhtari and Mohamad Jafar Pouyandeh. Pirouz Davani, the editor of the newspaper Pirouz, disappeared a few months before the others were murdered. His body was never found.

The murders (and Davani’s disappearance) triggered an outcry in much of the reformist press that forced the authorities into creating a commission of enquiry.

In January 1999, the intelligence ministry formally acknowledged the involvement of some of its operatives and announced the arrest of dozens of suspects. Fifteen intelligence ministry agents were convicted in January 2001 for the murder of the Forouhars. Three were sentenced to death. The other 12 received prison sentences. The authorities never showed any interest in solving the Davani case. In none of these cases were those who gave the orders ever prosecuted.

Although the involvement of high-level figures has been demonstrated, there has never been any political will to bring them to justice. The suspects include Mostafa Pourmohamadi (the former justice minister), Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei (the judicial system’s current spokesman) and Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi (the intelligence minister at the time of the murders), but none has ever been questioned or arrested. Only around 15 intelligence ministry operatives were convicted and given sentences ranging from three to 12 years in prison. All are now free.

Impunity is one of the most important reasons for violence against journalists in Iran, and many other murders of journalists remain unsolved and unpunished, in addition to the 1998 murders of journalists and intellectuals.

The victims include Ebrahim Zalzadeh, who disappeared in March 1996 and whose body was found a month later with 15 stab wounds, Zahra Kazemi, a photographer who died in detention in 2003, Ayfer Serçe, a Kurdish reporter for the Firat news agency killed in 2006, Omidreza Mirsayafi, a young blogger who died in detention in 2009, Alireza Eftekhari, a former Abrar Economie journalist who died in detention in 2009, Haleh Sahabi, a journalist and women’s rights activist killed in 2011, Hoda Saber, an Iran-e-Farda journalist who died in detention in 2011, and Sattar Beheshti, a blogger who died in detention in 2012.

Iran is ranked 164th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.