It has been two years since the unexplained murder of Ataollah Rezvani, a 52-year-old Baha’i citizen of Bandar Abbas. According to forensic investigations, “the victim did not show any resistance to the assault and the murderer was a professional with expertise in using light weapons.” Rezvani’s family say that investigations have been inadequate and lack any real motivation to uncover the truth of what happened on August 11, 2013.
Ataollah Rezvani was abducted as he returned from a friend’s house. A day after his disappearance, his body was discovered in his car on the outskirts of Bandar Abbas. He had been shot in the head.
Rezvani’s cousin Navid Aghdassi talked to Iran Wire about the case, and about the many questions that remained unanswered.
Can you tell us the latest news on Mr Rezvani’s case? Has there been any progress?
No progress at all, and no orders have been issued. Mr Amani, the prosecutor on the case, keeps delaying progress, giving excuses, including that the death was a suicide. He has told the family that they are not sure if his death was a murder or a suicide. “You can file a complaint if you have a suspect,” they say to the family. In one instance, Mr Amani said the family could receive compensation for their loss, and that they should let the case go. The family have not accepted the offer.
Can you tell us what happened to Mr Rezvani?
On the evening of August 11, 2013, Mr Rezvani finished work and headed to his friend’s house, Dr Midani, to check on it. Dr Midani was on a trip abroad and, although he had a concierge, he had asked Mr Rezvani to check their house every now and then. On that day, Mr Rezvani’s daughter and wife were on a trip to Mashhad, and his son was in Bandar Abbas. Karim, the Afghan concierge at Dr Midani’s house, was the last person to see my uncle. Authorities tried to make a connection between him and Mr Rezvani, and to make out that he might be the person who had killed him. Karim said in his statement that Mr Rezvani talked for about 40 minutes on his mobile phone and then left the house. He did not return home that night. The day after, at noon, they contacted Kourosh, his son, asking him to come to the forensics center to identify the body.
Mr Rezvani was a successful merchant. Could that have something to do with the reason for his murder?
Mr Rezvani was not a merchant. You can’t really call him a merchant. He was reliable man and his main profession was installation and maintenance of water pumps and water desalination systems. According to his resume, one can say he was the only expert in this field in Hormozgan Province. The theory that he was murdered during an attempted robbery does not apply because his body was found in his car and nothing had been stolen; his wallet was found. The only item missing was his mobile phone.
What judicial procedures have taken place during the last two years?
All sort of scenarios have been investigated — except the right one. Theft, personal matters, robbery and other irrelevant theories have been raised by security forces and the police. But all evidence, and the statements from his relatives, indicate that the murder was motivated by an an ideological incentive. Mr Rezvani had no personal enemies and was not financially connected with anyone. On the contrary, people liked him because of his modesty and respected him for his charitable work.
Do you think the authorities’ assumption that it was suicide is an attempt to distract the public from the real facts of the case?
Yes, exactly. Any normal person would understand that this assumption is baseless, and that there is no evidence whatsoever. It has been raised to derail the case and make exhaust the victim’s family. Mr Rezvani had no history of mental illness or depression, or any family problems. He would not have any motive to commit suicide. This assumption is so irrelevant and childish that the authorities did not even mention it in the file, in order to bring the case to a close.
Do you know if Mr Rezvani was ever threatened by security forces or extremists?
Mr Rezvani was threatened numerous times by intelligent agents and authorities. He did not always tell us about it. When the intelligence agents threatened other Baha’is or investigated them, they also sent threatening messages to Mr Rezvani. We found out that Mr Rezvani had been threatened through other Bahai’s in Bandar Abbas. Over the last 10 years, the Friday imam of Bandar Abbas, Ayatollah Naimabadi, continuously threatened him. He has repeatedly said threatening remarks against the Bahai’s in Bandar Abbas. Mr Rezvani and few other Bahai’s had written a letter to Naimabadi, asking him to stop his threats. We totally believe that Mr Rezvani’s murder is connected to religious matters, and the way his case has been dealt with demonstrates this. The government is not willing to go in the right direction and clarify the murky points in this case.
Another theory was that the Afghan concierge at Mr Midani’s house was involved in the murder. What do you know about this?
Karim was a worker and a concierge who had grown up in Dr Midani’s house. We are sure that Karim was not involved in the murder of Mr Rezvani, but his indirect involvement in this matter is still unclear. Karim disappeared a few weeks after Mr Rezvani’s murder and nobody knows about his whereabouts. He was the last person to see Mr Rezvani alive and probably has things to say. He had met with Mr Rezvani’s lawyer, but was immediately interrogated by the security forces for doing this. I personally think the reason for his disappearance is that he might know something. Maybe, due to security forces’ threats, he did not want us to know anything. If he stayed in Bandar Abbas he might have leaked some information. Therefore, the security forces decided to make him disappear.
How likely do you think it is that Mr Rezvani was murdered by someone with extremist ideas?
I think this is not a probability. Where would such an extremist citizen find a gun? The weapon with which Mr Rezvani was murdered was weapon know as a “king killer”. This small caliber weapon is not easy for just anyone to come by. How could an ordinary citizen find out about the whereabouts and movements of Mr Rezvani, and know his mobile phone number? When have you heard about a citizen killing another citizen just because of his or her beliefs? Any such acts have been carried out by plainclothes agents — or as they call it, the “uncontrolled forces supported by special circles.” The threats against Mr Rezvani’s life clearly show he was targeted. Let’s assume that the murder was carried out by a citizen. Then why have security forces and the ruling powers tried to derail the course of the case and try to hide the truth?
Did security forces disrupt the tribute ceremony Mr Rezvani’s family held for him?
Before the burial, Bandar Abbas intelligence agents summoned Mr Rezvani’s wife and son and told them that there should only be one camera to film [the ceremony] and no mobile phone videos should be taken. The security forces disrupted the ceremony held by Mr Rezvani’s sister, Ms Sahba Rezvani, in Semnan, but there were no problems at other ceremonies in other cities. It seems to me that the government wants to keep this murder as silent as possible, to gradually move it into oblivion.
How does this case fit in with the wider situation for Baha’is?
During the 170 years of the Baha’i faith in Iran and during the rule of the Qajars, the Pahlavis and now the Islamic Republic, the murders of Bahai’s have never been resolved. Mr Rezvani’s case is no exception. Preliminary investigations were conducted by Mr Rezaii, the officer for the case, but then, after a while, the investigations stopped and no further action was taken. The case is now at a standstill.
Read the original article in Persian