We shall never forget
Interview with Abdol-Karim Lahiji
By Fariba Amini
December 5, 2003
Time will not cease
When will light shine upon this unsettling ocean?
Thousands of miles away, on the other side,
There is a street in turmoil
And in many ways, it has become used to its condition
And in every moment, in the dim of night, our hopes and dreams are vanished.
-- Mohamad Mokhtari, Vancouver, November 1995
Died at the hands of the Islamic regime, November 1998
November is a somber month in the Iranian
calendar. In this month, five years ago, Tehran was shaken by the
murder of five innocent people, five intellectuals and nationalist
figures, what came to be known as the serial murders of the fall
of 1998. The stabbing to death of Parvaneh and Dariush in the confines
of their home, and the disappearance of Mokhtari, Poyanedh and
Sharif and their tragic death marked the beginning of a battle
between the forces of ignorance and brutality and the defenders
Abdol-Karim Lahiji has been on the forefront of this crusade,
to find answers to the reasons behind the murders and defending
the families of the victims. Lahiji, a long-time advocate for human
rights and a lawyer who has been in the practice for 38 years,
has dedicated his life in the defense of innocent victims of violence
and those whose rights have been abused by the Islamic Regime.
Dr. Lahiji, who is on a tour in the US spoke after a gathering
at Georgetown University. He is here to promote the award to his
colleague and friend, Shirin Ebadi who will be given this honor
on December 10, 2003 in Norway by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.
Mr. Lahiji was in Paris alongside Shirin Ebadi when the news
of her nomination was pronounced. He was jubilant like so many
other Iranians, not only because one of her compatriots has been
chosen but also a woman of such stature was nominated. We spoke
about the past, the present and the future of human rights
in Iran. His observations follow.
I established the Society in Defense of Human
Rights in Iran in 1983 in France. I have been the vice president
of the International Federation of the league of Human Rights
for the last six years, which consists of 120 countries throughout
the world. It includes CCR, which just submitted a petition to
the United States Congress in regards to the treatment of prisoners
in Guantanamo Bay. My area of interest and responsibility has
Iran and the Middle East. I am also the President of the league
of human rights in Iran.
For the last decade, we have tried to protect political prisoners
in Iran and their defenders. By informing the public about their
plight and mentioning their name in the media and by obtaining
awards for them, in a way we have tired to shield them from being
When their names are mentioned in the public, the Islamic Republic
is less likely to harm them or physically eliminate them. In previous
years, I have tried my best to obtain such awards for Abbas Amir
Entezam . We were able to get him the Kreisky award; Bruno Kreisky
was the former Austrian Chancellor who fought against the Nazis.
By doing so, he was temporarily released from jail.
For Shirin Ebadi, we obtained the 2001 Human Rights Watch Award
and for Mehrangiz Kar, the Rafto Award from Norway. Ms. Ebadi's
name was also mentioned for other prizes this year. Among them,
the Martin Ennals Award; he was the President of Amnesty International
and the same person who went to Iran in the 1970's and met with
the Shah. Because of these meetings and a sort of gentlemen agreement,
the former regime allowed the Red Cross to visit the Iranian prisons.
This year, we were trying to get France's highest award for human
rights for Ebadi when I heard of the possibility of her candidacy
for the Nobel prize. Personally I knew that she was among the candidates
but frankly I doubted that among the 100 names, which included
such rivals as the Pope and Havel, she would have a chance. Later
when I found out that among the five judges, three of them were
women, I knew that the chances might be higher.
Ebadi was in Paris at the time on the invitation of the municipality
of the city of Paris and Le Monde Diplomatique for a forum on
culture and film in Iran. She was supposed to return to Iran on
I asked her to stay a bit longer and she agreed. She was due
to return on October 10th in the afternoon. When at 10 o'clock
the morning, they contacted us and told us of the judges ruling,
at First she thought it was a joke, but when at 11 in the morning
the radio announced the news, we knew that this was no joke.
That's when I remembered this famous saying of the late Mehdi
Bazargan regarding the Iranian revolution. He said, for years we
were waiting for rain but got a storm instead. And Ebadi's nomination
was indeed like a thunderous storm that took all of us by surprise.
And I must tell you that we had the largest Press conference in
the 80-year history of the Federation. There were more than 300
reporters who were fighting with one another to get a chance to
talk to her. I had to finally calm them down by saying this is
a prize for Peace not War!
Our personal and professional friendship thus started from 1963.
I have known Ebadi since she entered the
Ministry of Justice as a young woman jurist. This was indeed an
important event for a woman to rise to such a level; especially
in an institution that was notoriously male-dominated.
We had lunch every two weeks; there were six of us. I was the
only man among the five women lawyers and judges. Ebadi was aware
my human rights activities and she was wary of it. She used to
criticize me for it and tell me that I should abandon such activities,
as they can be dangerous. She used to tell me that I should continue
with legal work and teach at the university.
But the revolution
changed everything. What happened to women and their status as
citizens was in fact a turning point in the politicization of
Ebadi and many others. When women were forced to wear the hejab
and they were stripped of many of their legal rights, Ebadi
got the shock of her
life. And then of course, she was also stripped of her position
as a judge, solely on the grounds that she was a woman, as if it
were a crime!
These women were waiting to be sworn in as judges and all their
hard work and years of studies vanished with one single decision.
In fact, I wrote a letter to Justice Minister, Dr. Mobasheri, requesting
an immediate reply, but Khomeini had ordered against any action
in this regard. He was angry with my objection and began to slander
the forty or so lawyers who had protested this illegal action.
My first objection had been to the summary executions taking place.
Unfortunately, at this time the atmosphere of increasing repression
prevailed and to my dismay, I had to leave the country. Ebadi
remained behind and became involved in social work and doing what
she could under the most strenuous circumstances. She became acquainted
with the rights of ordinary people and began to write a series
of articles and books. Ebadi is the author of 11 books, some of
which have been taught at the law school and various universities.
her work, one should note the book about children's rights, which
is a valuable piece of work that has been translated by UNICEF
into English. The second work is that of a series of documents
comparing the UN Declaration of Human Rights with those in the
Islamic Republic. The third book, which is under print, is on
the rights of women in Iran.
Ebadi's contribution to the laws regarding women and
children in Iran consequently changed her from a lawyer to a
human rights activist. She has constantly challenged the Islamic
without revolutionary means but by utilizing exisitng laws.
With her non-violent struggle, she has challenged the essence
of the laws
created in Iran by the Islamic authorities. This type of defiance
is one that is legal, social and not necessarily political but
the context of law.
She has been a pioneer in introducing men
and women of Iran to their most basic and human rights as
citizens. What distinguishes her from other is that she is not
an intellectual who merely talks. She is a woman of action. She
proposes new laws,
changes the existing laws. Her contributions have changed many
of the current laws, which directly affect women and children.
Because of her courage and bravery, the Mnsitry of Intelligence
repeatedly threatened her. Even she has been questioned about
her affiliation with me and quite openly she has told them that
are old friends. In fact, I know and have seen with my own eyes
that she was on the list of death put out by this infamous ministry.
She was to be murdered right after Pouyandeh. But, Dorri Najaf-Abadi
told the killers to wait until after Ramadan so that she would
be finished with her fasting!
These are the circumstances
Ebadi and many others have lived and worked under. And if it
weren't for the ongoing work outside of Iran, Ebadi's name would
been added to the list of those who died. Or her incarceration
would have lasted longer like her friend and collegue Nasser
Zarafshan who is still in jail. Or like her other friend, Mehrangiz
who was forced to leave the country.
But she has remained in Iran in order to ameliorate the human
rights situation.Five years have now passed since what was referred
to as the serial murders, or what I refer to as the political murders
of the fall of 1998. The families of the victims have all boycotted
the ludicrous trial since none of the very elementary legal regulations
The people who ordered these killings are still at
large; like Fallahian and Dori Najaf-Abadi. In the realm of its
own Islamic laws, the so-called Islamic orders cannot be implemented
without the orders from higher above. Even the killers themselves
have acknowledged that they were just taking orders. They wanted
to have the trial behind closed doors or in a military tribunal,
something that is absurd since these killers did not
act as military personnel. They were civilians.
Therefore, after consulting with their lawyers, the families declined
to participate in this mockery of a trial. It is like a blow to
them in every respect. Not only has the life of their loved ones
been brutally taken away, but to make it worse, the families are
the regime's staging of farcical trials. To top it, both Shirian
Ebadi and Nasser Zarafshan who were the lawyers for the families,
This type of action is against all the norms of international
law and even the laws in the Islamic Republic. The families have
sent a petition to the UN high commission for human rights and
objected to the unfair and illegal trials. Thus far, after 5 years,
the political murders's case remains unsolved. And
unfortunately, we see a similar file is now open, that of
journalist Zahra Kazemi who was so viciously murdered in Evin
Prison. That is what we are facing, a criminal code of justice
by a bunch
of criminal perpetuators.
Now, as their lawyer abroad, I am faced with another criminal
case. I represent Zahra Kazemi's son, Stephan. Ebadi
is doing her share of work for Kazemi's mother
But at the time that the families of Forouhar, Mokhtari,
Pouyandeh and Sharif are commemorating their death, we are helplessly
trying to defend a new victim.
One other note on this subject,
Parastou who left for Iran two weeks ago, was told by the authorities
that her parents' home might be confiscated as it has become
the den of anti-government activities. She also had to confront
in regards to where the ceremonies would be held. Fortunately
it was held in Hosseiniyeh Ershad in Tehran instead of Behesht
Zahra, which is outside the capital. Five months into the horrific
murder of Zahra Kazemi., we are faced with yet very similar hurdles
created by the Islamic officials, very much like in the serial
Recently I had a long meeting in Montreal with the representative
of the Canadian government and some human rights organizations.
A resolution will be introduced to the United Nations by the Canadian
government requesting answers from the Islamic regime [News here].
This as I have said repeatedly is not a just a legal dossier but
What we have to realize, and I have told the Canadians, is that
we cannot expect miracles from the Ministry of Justice of the
Islamic Republic. They are themselves the tools of oppression and
that seeks justice. The Tehran Prosecutor General, Saeed Mortazavi,
a replacement of Assadollah Lajevardi (the butcher of Evin who
was gunned down by MKO) is a criminal himself.
They have in a
way ridiculed the whole dossier by insinuating that those who
killed Zahra Kazemi acted alone, and that her murder was an accident.
The UN resolution calls for Mortazavi's
immediate resignation and the appointment of a new impartial
prosecutor. The Islamic regime must
be held accountable for this case, as those involved in this
crime were not acting alone.
The motivations behind these murders are very clear. Dariush
and Parvaneh Forouahr were well known among the Iranian society.
They had been involved in political struggles long before the 1953
coup. And Mokhtari and Pouyandeh were both among the directors
Writers. They were what we called Degar Andish; their
viewpoints were different from the establishment. Therefore, for
the ruling clerics
who have never accepted anything but their own way of life, they
threat, an obstacle. So they had to be eliminated and of course
we know they were not the first ones.
Previously there were Mir
Alai, Tafazoli, Ghafar Hosseini in Iran and Bakhtiar, Ghassemlou
and others abroad. They were on the death list of the Islamic regime.
The death list included some 80 individuals, if not more.
The Islamic Republic's intelligence apparatus, before Khatami's
eletion and after, has always been linked to the murder
We must never forget these crimes: these cruel and violent acts
against Iranian citizens. The Iranian people must remember them
at every instance, in every moment since those who were killed
spoke out knowing that their lives may be in danger. We should
never forget these terrible events in our history.
it comes to retribution, it is up to the Iranian people how they
wish to deal with the murderers. Whether there should be amnesty
or not. It is not my decision or yours or even the lawyers of
the victims. As a nation, we must come together and find the
way to come to terms with this issue. Nevertheless, if we want
to forgive that is one option. But we should never ever forget.
We should keep the victims' memories alive. And I think Iranians
are tired of revenge. We have seen enough killings for a lifetime.
opinion, vengeance is no longer an option. Only tolerance.
What prompted me to become interested and involved in human rights
activities was in the early years of 1960's . When I was in law
school, I was active in political struggles. I was the student
representative in the National Front. But honestly I was not attracted
to any party or organization. I did not have ambitions to become
a political leader of any sort. From the age of 12 I knew that
become a lawyer.
In 1968, the United Nations had its 20th anniversary
of the formation of Human Rights Charter in Tehran. It was referred
to as the Tehran Conference. Ashraf Pahlavi, the Shah's sister,
headed the Iranian human rights commission. And for obvious
barred to attend.
At that time, Renee Cassin, the
lawyer who was also the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize
had come to Iran and I was quite impressed by him. It coincided
the trial of some political prisoners -- the Jazani group (executed
by the Shah's regime) I knew them from the time of my political
activities from the university era. Due to the courageous efforts
of Mihan Jazani (Bijan Jazani's wife) a letter was presented
to the committee asking for an intervention in the matter.
It was some time later that I became seriously involved in human
rights activities and decided to take this road. Obviously, at
the time, my involvement was not public. In 1976, we formed two
organizations in Iran and started our work openly, especially in
the area of defending political prisoners. Unfortunately, our activities
seized when in March of 1982 I had to leave Iran as my life was
What is needed is that we have to introduce the culture of human
rights into our sphere of life, not just in the area of politics
but within our homes, in our daily relationships, with our families
and friends. It should become a way of life and existence. For
the young generation of Iranians who have grown up here, this mentality
is understood. They know and have lived with the culture of human
What we have to do as human rights activists is to bring
awareness to those Iranians who come from Iran and those who
are residing there. This culture should be established within the
of our society, a terminology that has been foreign to us, never
been embedded in our vocabulary or exercised in our daily life.
Essentially, this is what the young generation of Iranians could
take on: to understand and apply the idea of human rights. Additionally,
we have to work much harder in getting the support of world public
opinion and to become more sensitive towards human rights violations
Now with the Nobel Peace prize, we have a greater chance. An ongoing
campaign must undergo to free all the political prisoners in
Iran, and for the world community to be more responsible towards
issue of democracy and human rights in Iran. The new generation
can and must create this sensitivity and bring about solidarity
among Iranians from all corners of the world.
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