HRW: An Open Letter to Iranian President

Hanny Megally
Human Rights Watch
 An Open Letter to Iranian President
25 November 1998
His Excellency Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami
Office of the Presidency, Tehran
Islamic Republic of Iran

Your Excellency:

Human Rights Watch is writing this open letter to you to express its shock bout the killings of opposition figures Darioush and Parvaneh Forouhar, in their Tehran home on Sunday November 22, 1998. Mr. Forouhar, who was the leader of the banned Iran Nation Party, and a former minister of labor in the transitional government of Mehdi Bazargan, was also a former political prisoner under the Shah and after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Forouhar's wife, Parvaneh Forouhar (Eskandari), was an outspoken teacher, a political activist, and spokesperson of the Iran Nation Party.  The Forouhars frequently protested the restrictions placed on their nonviolent political activities by the Iranian authorities. Gatherings organized by the Iran Nation Party were attacked by vigilante groups with links to members of the government. In a telephone interview with Human Rights Watch in August 1998, Darioush Forouhar said, "we have no security, we cannot hold even informal gatherings." The Forouhars were among a very small number of opposition activists who have remained in Iran while continuing to criticize government policies.

Under difficult circumstances, the Forouhars prepared and distributed a weekly human rights bulletin to journalists and human rights organizations around the world. They gave interviews to international radio stations broadcasting to Iran about human rights issues. Parvaneh Forouhar remarked upon the acute insecurity they felt, telling to Human Rights Watch that "at the end of every day they thanked God for granting them another day to live."

Since coming to power on a platform of upholding basic freedoms and respecting the rule of law, your government has publicly encouraged greater freedom of expression but has repeatedly failed to protect the holders of dissident views from flagrant violations of their rights and has not brought to justice those responsible for these actions.

For example, prominent dissidents, including writers and editors, continue to be subjected to arbitrary detention and restrictions on their freedom of expression. The former deputy prime minister, Abbas Amir Entezam was detained on September 8, 1998 following public statements critical of the treatment of political prisoners. He has been denied access to his lawyer. Independent religious scholar Hojatoleslam Mohssen Saeidzadeh was detained in June 1998 apparently because of his public criticism of laws relating to the status of women in the family. He has not been able to challenge the legal basis for his detention before a court, and he has been denied access to his lawyer. Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the former designated successor to Ayatollah Khomeini as Leader of the Islamic Republic, is reported to be under house arrest in his residence in Qom. Several of Ayatollah Montazeri's followers, including his son in law, Hadi Hashmei, Abolfazl Musavian, and Gholam-Hossein Nadi are in prison for their views.

The same is true of the Iranian press, which became emboldened after your election, establishing fora for open debate about a broad range of political, social, and cultural issues but which has also fallen foul of conservative forces opposing the debates. The government has also used broad-brush language
in the press law to bring about the closure of newspapers, including Panshambeha, Gorzaresh-Ruz, Jameh, Khaneh, Tous, Rah-e No, Tavana, and Jameh-Salem.

As you are aware, newspaper offices and nonviolent demonstrators, as well as prominent activists have all been the subject of violent attacks by the group Ansar-e Hezbollah, which serves as an instrument of lawless violence for conservative clerics. Your government has remained curiously silent on this
issue and only after two government officials, one minister and a vice president, were attacked and beaten by thugs in September, did you finally call for the arrest of the perpetrators. To date there has been no public information about those responsible being brought to justice and the attacks continue.

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that the murders of the Forouhars may be a part of a pattern of government-condoned repression directed against critics in Iran which goes back many years. For example the victims of unresolved killings have included prominent figures such as 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 had come to international prominence leading a campaign for the release of Pastor Mehdi Dibaj, who was murdered in January 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 Neshat street in Isfahan in October 1995; Professor Ahmad Tafazzoli of Tehran's University who was found dead in Punak, a suburb northwest of Tehran in January 1997; Ebrahim Zalzadeh, a publisher whose body was discovered in Tehran city coroner's department morgue 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. In all these cases investigations have not taken place or have done so in secret; the perpetrators are not known to have been found or brought to justice.

Human Rights Watch believes that these killings serve a purpose of chilling  public criticism of the government and repressing minority ethnic and religions  communities. If Iran is ever to make progress towards a society in which the  rule of law is respected, the perpetrators of such horrific crimes as the
murder of Darioush and Parvaneh Forouhar must be brought to justice. Those who  intimidate, bully, and kill in the name of maintaining the grip on power of  Iran's clerical elite must be exposed and prevented from carrying on their  reign of terror.

The Forouhars lived their lives under close government surveillance. Human  Rights Watch had observed that their telephone was controlled and visitors to  their house were monitored. In these circumstances, it is puzzling that the  authorities have not yet identified the perpetrators of the murders; or, if  they have done so, that this has not been made public.

As mentioned above, Human Rights Watch is concerned that the killing of the  Forouhars is part of a longstanding pattern of harassment and persecution of  government critics in Iran. This pattern has continued despite your public  statement encouraging freedom of expression. Words alone cannot allay the growing concerns that those who speak out will either be intimidated, beaten,
or killed. As an essential first step to rebuild confidence in your government's ability to protect its citizens and to ensure the rule of law, we urge that you immediately set in motion a thorough and impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Forouhars' deaths, that you make the
results of the investigation public, and that those responsible be brought to justice.

I thank you for your consideration and look forward to receiving your comments on this disturbing matter.


Hanny Megally
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division