New York, 15 Dec. (HRW) As the Islamic Republic is increasingly isolated on the international scene over the indignations provoked by outrageous anti-Semite statements from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a human rights organization implicated Iran’s new Minister of Interior for “grave human rights violations”.
In repeated declaration, Mr. Ahmadinejad, a former Revolutionary Guard officer first proposed to eradicate Israel from the face of earth, and then he questioned the Holocaust before stating that the killing of six million Jews during the second World War by Hitler’s Germany was a “myth”.
Agents of the Information Ministry from 1987 to 1999, systematically engaged in the killings of opposition figures, political activists, and intellectuals.
On return from a visit to the neighbouring Pakistan, Mr. Manouchehr Mottaki, the Foreign Affairs Minister confirmed the declarations, saying that what Mr. Ahmadinejad said was “the official policy of the Islamic Republic since its was established 25 years ago”.
Contrary to the wide condemnation of the statements in the Western world as well as by the United Nations, Arab and Muslim regimes remained silent, highlighting an Iranian proverb that says “silence is sign of acceptance”.
In a well-documented paper released two days ago, Human Rights Watch said “Iran’s new Minister of Interior is implicated in grave human rights violations over the past two decades, possibly including crimes against humanity in connection with the massacre of thousands of political prisoners, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released on Thursday 15 December 2005”.
"It’s completely unacceptable that men with such records would be serving in Iran’s government. They should be removed from their posts and investigated for these terrible crimes”, said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The New York-based human rights organisation also said that the new Minister of Information should be investigated for his possible involvement in a dissident’s killing.
The briefing paper, Ministers of Murder: Iran’s New Security Cabinet, details credible allegations that Minister of Interior Hojjatoleslam Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi and Minister of Information Hojjatoleslam Gholamhossein Mohseni Ezhei were involved in extremely serious and systematic human rights violations over the past two decades.
Iran’s cabinet is now dominated by former security and intelligence officials, Human Rights Watch said, rising fears that President Ahmadinejad’s government will readily resort to violence to suppress dissidents and punish critics.
During Pour-Mohammadi’s tenure as top deputy of the Ministry of Information from 1987 to 1999, agents of the ministry systematically engaged in extrajudicial killings of opposition figures, political activists, and intellectuals.
Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi was the deputy minister of the Ministry of Information in 1998, when agents of that ministry killed the following five prominent intellectuals and political activists:
Darioush and Parvaneh Forohar were killed on 22 November in their Tehran home.
Majid Sharif was “disappeared” on 20 November; his body was found in a Tehran street on November 25.
Mohammad Mokhtari was “disappeared” on 3 December; his body was found in a Tehran city morgue on 9 December.
Jafar Pouyandeh, was “disappeared” on 9 December; his body was found on 13 December in a suburb of Tehran.
Darioush and Parvaneh Forohar were long-time political activists and had been leaders of the Mellat Party of Iran since 1951. Sharif, Mokhtari, and Pouyandeh were well-known dissident journalists and writers.
These killings are known in Iran as the “serial murders.” Under pressure from then-President Mohammad Khatami, on January 5, 1999, the Ministry of Information acknowledged that its agents had perpetrated the murders. Subsequently, the authorities arrested eighteen people and tried them in connection with the killings. On June 20, 1999, the prosecutor of the Judicial Complex for the Armed Forces announced that the mastermind behind the serial killings was a high-ranking official of the Ministry of Information, Sa’id Emami, and that Emami had committed suicide while in custody.
Human Rights Watch interviewed several Iranian journalists and human rights defenders who alleged that the chain of command responsible for the serial murders involved other high ranking officials in the ministry. Akbar Ganji, a prominent investigative reporter who is serving a ten years jail sentence, has written extensively on this issue. With regard to these allegations, Nasser Ghavami, former head of the Parliament’s Judicial Committee, said: “Unfortunately, the judicial process did not proceed along the lines of a credible investigation. Those responsible for ordering these murders were never brought to justice and charges were not filed against them.” In November 2000, another parliamentarian, Davoud Soleimani, complained that the masterminds and instigators behind the serial murders remain beyond the focus of the judicial investigations. He said, “In this [judicial] case, the issue of those who ordered the crimes and the functionaries who implemented them remains a mystery. This has not satisfied the public opinion. …those who ordered these murders as well as the agents [responsible] must be put on trial”.
In 1988, the Iranian government executed thousands of political prisoners held inside Iranian jails. The deliberate and systematic manner in which these extrajudicial executions took place may constitute a crime against humanity under international law, Human Rights Watch said. Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi was a member of the three-person committee that ordered prisoners held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison to their summary executions.
From 1990 to 1999, Pour-Mohammadi was director of foreign intelligence operations in the Ministry of Information. During this period, dozens of opposition figures were assassinated abroad. In some of these cases the hand of the Iranian government has been well established, while in others there are credible allegations of government involvement. Pour-Mohammadi is at the center of strong allegations of direct involvement in orchestrating these assassinations.
In June 2005, Iranians elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had campaigned on a platform of improving economic conditions, as their new president. Ahmadinejad assumed his new post in early August 2005 with the backing of those political factions in Iran who most vigorously opposed political and social reforms initiated by his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami. This support, coupled with positions Ahmadinejad took during the campaign, caused human rights defenders and activists in Iran to view his rise to power with great concern.
It’s completely unacceptable that men with such records would be serving in Iran’s government. They should be removed from their posts and investigated for these terrible crimes
These concerns grew when Ahmadinejad introduced his cabinet to the Iranian parliament for approval on August 14, 2005. Most of his nominees hail from security and intelligence backgrounds, adding to fears that the new government will intensify and expand repressive measures towards critics and dissidents.
Particularly troubling are President Ahmadinejad’s choices for the powerful positions of Minister of Interior, Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi, and Minister of Information, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ezhei. In Iran the Ministry of Information is responsible for many intelligence functions. This briefing paper discusses credible allegations that both ministers were involved in extremely serious and systematic human rights violations over the past two decades.
In 1988 Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi represented the Ministry of Information on a three-person committee that ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners. These systematic killings constitute a crime against humanity under international human rights law. In his role as a deputy and designated acting minister of information in 1998, Pour-Mohammadi is also suspected of ordering the murders of several dissident writers and intellectuals by agents of the Ministry of Information.
In addition, while Pour-Mohammadi headed the foreign intelligence section of the Ministry of Information, government agents carried out assassinations of numerous opposition figures abroad. Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi also served as prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court (1979-1986) and prosecutor of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Court in the western regions (1986).1
With regard to the 1988 mass prison executions, Amnesty International reported in 1990: The political executions took place in many prisons in all parts of Iran, often far from where the armed incursion took place. Most of the executions were of political prisoners, including an unknown number of prisoners of conscience, who had already served a number of years in prison. They could have played no part in the armed incursion, and they were in no position to take part in spying or terrorist activities. Many of the dead had been tried and sentenced to prison terms during the early 1980s, many for non-violent offenses such as distributing newspapers and leaflets, taking part in demonstrations or collecting funds for prisoners' families. Many of the dead had been students in their teens or early twenties at the time of their arrest.
Mohseni Ezhei, for his part, was a high ranking member of the Judiciary over the past six years and a leading figure in suppressing press freedoms. He was representative of the Judiciary in the Ministry of Information (1986-1988 and 1991-1994), head of the prosecutor’s office in charge of economic affairs (1989-1990), prosecutor of the Special Court for the Clergy (1995-1996), prosecutor-general of the Special Court for the Clergy (1996-present), and head of the Judicial Complex for Government Employees (1996-2002).2
As prosecutor-general of the Special Court for the Clergy, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ezhei led the prosecution of several reformist clerics. In addition, he presided over the politically-motivated trial of former Tehran mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi, who had played a pivotal role in campaigning for Khatami’s election to presidency. Mohseni Ezhei is also suspected of ordering the murder of Pirouz Davani, an Iranian dissident and activist whom agents of the Ministry of Information allegedly kidnapped and killed in 1998.
As Ahmadinejad’s new government embarks on solidifying its position, it is imperative to highlight the abusive records of these two cabinet ministers. Since taking power, the new government has reaffirmed its intent to continue a broad crackdown against dissident writers and activists. During the past two months, the Ministry of Information has summoned and interrogated at least ten journalists and newspaper editors, warning them not to criticize the new government.3
Agents of the Judiciary and the Ministry of Information detained Abdolfattah Soltani, a co-founder of the independent Center for Defense of Human Rights, on July 30 and have held him without charge, mostly in solitary confinement, since then. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, many activists and journalists expressed fear that they will be at risk even for their lives, given the documented history of political killings at the hands of government forces, and in which Pour-Mohammadi and Mohseni Ejehi allegedly played a significant role.4
Since taking over as Minister of Interior in August, Pour-Mohammadi has appointed a large number of security and intelligence officials to powerful posts. He appointed thirty new provincial governors, of whom eighteen are former commanders of the Revolutionary Guards. The Revolutionary Guards, the most powerful military force in Iran, have been associated with numerous serious and systematic human rights abuses, including secret prisons and illegal detentions. Pour-Mohammadi’s top deputy and designated acting minister, Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr, was the acting commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards until his appointment to the Ministry of Interior on November 25.5 ENDS HRW REPORT 161204.
1] “Biographies of proposed ministers”, Iranian Students News Agency, August 14, 2005. http://www.isna.ir/Main/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-568867
 “Black month for Iran’s journalists,” Reporters without Borders, November 23, 2005. http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=15678
 For this report Human Rights Watch interviewed twelve Iranian journalists, activists, and former government officials both inside and outside of Iran. All of them asked to remain anonymous out of concerns for their safety.
 “The Interior Minister appoints Commander Zolghadr to the post of Deputy Minister,” Iranian Students News Agency, November 25, 2005.
Editor’s note: some editing and phonetisation of names are by IPS