|You will answer, one day
Four years after the murder of the translator of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, his wife still seeking justice
By Sima Sahebi
Translated by: Iran Human Rights News
December 12, 2002
It was exactly on December 3, 1998 that my husband came to me with the news of Mohammad
Mokhtari's disappearance. "We must do something," he said. "We can
not sit still while writers are detained one by one."
He used the word "detain" with certainty, as though there could not be
another outcome to the fate for the country's writers. The next day, a Friday, we
kept asking ourselves, whose turn will it be next time? We had sort of guessed what
it would be after the death of Majid Sharif, and the Forouhars.
In reality we could not see the relationship between the killings and the disappearance
of Mokhtari. On Sunday the 6th of December 1998, my husband, Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh,
and others, met in the office of the Iranian Writers Association to discuss Mokhtari's
disappearance as well as how to provide security for others. But how could the association,
which was a legal and open organization, provide security? They were not a political
organization that could go underground as soon as they felt danger. Secrecy was not
in its nature, so it was a difficult decision.
During this time, my husband was working with publishers to have his book "Questions
& Answer about Human Rights" published. He wanted it to coincide with the
40th anniversary of the Universal Human Rights Charter. Article 19 of the declaration
states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right
includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
My husband had translated it in his book, but he and all those around him lived in
constant fear and harassment. The fear that 134 of them felt was for having written
the famous letter best known as "We
are the Writers" and defended their opinions as writers, in the journal
Jameeh Salem on September of 1998 in defense of the Charter of the Writers'
Association, or when summoned by the revolutionary courts.
Finally, on December 9, 1998, my husband left the house for work at the Cultural
Research Institute. On that agonizing day, his friends had warned him not to go anywhere
alone since the vultures of death were waiting in the streets to hunt them down one
He would not listen to me as I insisted that he should stay. "At most, they
would arrest or put on us on trial," he said. But it never crossed his mind
that this time the story may have a much more tragic ending. It never crossed his
mind that his friend, who was kidnapped Thursday afternoon, would be killed. He said
"This was not the first time that they had arrested Mohammad (Mokhtari) and
taken him to an undisclosed location. They would release him again after a few days."
I could never understand his optimism. I felt that maybe he was just saying this
to calm me down, that in a way, he was aware of the coming tragedy.
I returned home from work at 8 PM. Nazanin was very distressed. She said that her
father should have been home by 5, but there was no news of him. Without expressing
anything to Nazanin, I read the whole story to the end. When I called Mokhtari's
home to see if I can find him there, I learned that his body had been discovered.
All my fears had turned into reality. And I could see what my husband's fate. I was
all alone now with a heavy burden. I found a new strength in myself.
I notified his close friends. I visited all the hospitals near his office as well
as the police stations. Early the next day, with a letter in my shaking hand I visited
the presidential office. In the letter I had asked the President to have the Judiciary
do all in its power to locate my husband. Despite my persistent requests, I was unable
to meet President Khatami, but they did take the letter and told me he would reply.
I returned home, hopeless. I told them "You will respond? When it's too late?
I want an immediate answer. I want security for my husband's life." But they
sent me home.
Sleeplessness and running around for 24 hours had taken its toll. But I felt that
I had to do everything in my power. Maybe there was still a chance. My last hope
was the coroner's office. I kept visiting the morgue in search of my husband's body
among the dead. When I did not find his body, I still had hopes.
The phone rang at 7 PM on the 11th of December. It was from the security forces in
the Shahriar district of Karaj, informing me that they had located a body that matched
the descriptions I had provided earlier. I could not cry. Finally -- after three
days, there was news of his whereabouts.
Along with one of his friends, I drove toward Shahriar. While driving, he turned
to me and told me: "I hope they have found the body, otherwise you will live
with uncertainty and in hope of his return the rest of your life."
At that very moment, I thought of his words as very cruel. But later on when I found
out about the fate of Pirouz Davani -- who is still missing -- and how his family
would have been even happy to see his body, I understood the meaning of those words.
Not to mention what went through our minds that evening until about 8 am when finally
my brother was able to recognize his body in the mortuary.
I do not remember anything from that time except the cries and my denial of his death
when I kept asking my brother whether he was sure it was my husband's body. I did
not have the energy to look at his body or even try to deny that he was really dead.
While grieving, the phone constantly rang and the journalists kept coming to our
small apartment, crudely reminding me of his death. Although I had not slept for
four days, I was still able to answer the reporters and defend the rights of these
writers whose only crime was to voice their opinion.
It was December 7th when the publisher of my husband's book came to visit me. He
said very nervously, "Finally his book will be published on the very same day
that Mohammad wanted." I believe his book, the fortieth anniversary of the Declaration
of Human Rights and the death of my husband was no coincidence and I saw him as a
victim of his own intention to publish the Declaration of Human Rights especially
the section that pertains to freedom of speech.
When we were preparing for his funeral procession, Nasser Zarafshan came to see me.
It was the first time I had seen him. He said that he voluntarily accepts the legal
case of my husband's death and that he would do all he can to bring light to the
truth about these murders.
Internal and international protests against these murders were gaining momentum.
From local to foreign media and independent organizations to PEN, the word was spreading
around. Popular protests and the important role of free press as well as the heroic
work of journalists forced the government to make an official statement. It blamed
the murders entirely on the Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic.
This official confession on the months of September/October
1998 was a turning point that spread hope among all Iranians and the families of
the victims. It indicated that for the first time a legal case would be dealt with
on a national level.
But these false hopes disappeared quickly with our futile visits to the military
tribunals. Officials of the Judiciary, under the pretext of preserving national security
declined to release any information to us or to our lawyers. They were hoping that
by prolonging the time of their investigative process, in essence all memories of
this national crisis would eventually fade away.
In December of 1999, the first anniversary of Mokhtari and my husband's death was
organized in Tehran's Fakhrodoleh Mosque. Nasser Zarafshan, pointing to the huge
participation of the people, reminded us that the murders would never disappear from
the people's memory.
Finally in September/October 2000, nearly two years of waiting, they announced that
the investigation had ended and that our attorneys had 10 days to review the case.
At the end of the 10 days, our attorneys provided a list of deficiencies to the presiding
One important area of deficiency was the total elimination
of Saeed Emami's
confession. Mr. Nizai himself had declared that if he (Emami) were still alive, he
would have been sentenced to death. But his confession was thrown out since the judge
deemed it unrelated to the case. How could the confession of someone who was the
assistant to a ministry and a person who would have been sentenced to death had he
been alive, was irrelevant to the case, is beyond our comprehension. One day, this
same judge must answer to the Iranian people.
Finally, the case was turned over to the military tribunal for further investigation
and to resolve all the discrepancies. Unfortunately, the case without resolving any
of the related issues was turned over to the courts and a date of December 23, 2000
was set for trial. But the families of the victims under protest boycotted the trials.
Exactly 10 days before the trial, the courts arrested Nasser Zarafshan for having
publicized the case. I was also arrested for publishing a letter criticizing them
for not allowing us to hold a memorial of the second anniversary of their death.
I was released that night after posting bail, but a case was created against Mohsen
Hakimi, a friend of my husband's and I. They told us that we could select an attorney
to defend ourselves. The trial begun under these conditions: detainment of Nasser
Zarafshan, the attorney for the case, as well as the arrest of one of the victim's
With our hopes in the judiciary system gone, we turned our attention toward the 9th
Commission of the Majlis in the hope that maybe the legislative body would help us
shed some light. In our three meetings with their representative, we brought up the
main deficiencies of the case and requested that they, as the representative of the
people to take action on this national case and to report their findings to the people.
In the midst of all these events, the courts announced their verdict
in the case of the serial murders: three counts of Quid Pro Quid against the three
who had committed the murders, two counts of life imprisonment for Mostafa Kazaemi
and Mehrdad Alikhani for ordering the murders as well as the same verdict for the
These verdicts were announced in such a manner as though they were committed in the
private domain and not on a national and political one. In their written statement,
it was very clear that they considered these events as normal crimes and not one
involving one of the key organs in the government -- the Ministry of Intelligence.
Mr Zarafshan, in his report to the people, which was published in the papers, announced
that those who were directly responsible for these crimes were released on bail for
$12,500 pending the trial that lasted for two years. They were only arrested close
to the date of the trial after the families protested. It's an astonishing phenomenon
that in the legal circles in Iran, someone who has committed murder can be released
on a $12,500 bail, while Mr. Zarafshan's bail was set at $50,000.
was a hopeless year for the Judiciary. In a single sentence they told us they would
investigate the case but until today, we have not even seen a single page of their
findings. In April/May of 2001 our trial began in the revolutionary courts and we
were cleared of all charges.
On April/May of 2002, the trial of Nasser Zarafshan began and he was sentenced to
5 years jail and lashing. On August of 2002, his verdict was finalized and he was
sent to prison where he joined the rest of the journalists who had gone to jail for
telling the truth about these cases.
With the ending of the investigation into the Autumn 1988 serial murders, and it's
link with the tragic trial and imprisonment of our lawyer, Zarafshan, the families
were forced to ask the help of the international community and ask the Human Rights
Commission of the United Nations to investigate the truth behind these crimes.
Official declaration of their intent by Parastou Forouhar in the anniversary of the
death of her parents Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, was in essence the beginning
of this demand and as we have always declared, this case will never end until the
whole truth comes out.
Sima Sahebi is the wife of Mohammad Jafar
Footnotes by Iran Human Rights News
* Dariush Forouhar, and his wife Parvaneh Forouhar (née Eskandari), was
stabbed to death in their Tehran home on November 22, 1998.
* Police in a Tehran street found the body of Majid Sharif, a prominent writer and
political critic, and the family was able to identify it at the Tehran city morgue
on November 24. He had disappeared on November 20, 1998.
* The body of Mohammad Mokhtari, a writer and poet, was found in a Tehran city morgue
on December 9, 1998.
* Pirouz Davani, Disappeared August of 1998. Presumed dead his body has not been
* Saied Emami, Deputy for Security Affairs of the Ministry of Intelligence, was the
mastermind behind the chain Killings of 1998. He "committed" Suicide while
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