Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s recent declaration that security forces should “fire at will” against presumed enemies of the state is an established policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“Iran’s leader spoke about firing at will only recently, but as a matter of fact, this policy has been in place and enforced for many years,” said Ebadi in a recent interview.
“Firing at will means to ignore the law and usher in chaos and anarchy,” she added. “If someone can fire at will, others will feel they have that right too, and this will only lead to disorder and lawlessness.”
Ebadi was Iran’s first female judge before being forced to resign after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In 2002 she founded the Defenders of Human Rights Center as one of the country’s top human rights lawyers, only to be forced into exile in 2009.
In the interview with CHRI, Ebadi pointed to the assassinations of dissidents, persecution of Baha’is and attacks on women as examples of the ruling establishment’s policy of silencing those deemed as enemies of the state through extrajudicial means, and warned against its consequences.
In a veiled criticism of President Hassan Rouhani’s centrist government, Khamenei said in a speech on June 7, “Sometimes the central think tanks and cultural and political institutions fall into disarray and stagnation, and when that happens, officers against the soft war should recognize their duty, make decisions and act in a fire at will form.”
Iranian officials often refer to Western cultural influences as a “soft war” against their national and religious values.
Khamenei’s order to his followers, including to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Basij paramilitary forces, is a response to the more moderate policies of Rouhani, who has maintained close ties with reformists throughout his presidency.
Violation of Citizens’ Rights
“The first side effect of this order is lawlessness and violating citizens’ rights,” Ebadi told CHRI.
She continued: “There have been individuals who saw themselves in a position above the law and acted on their sense of religious duty. For example, we can point to the acid attacks on women in Isfahan when a number of women were disfigured simply because they were not properly wearing the hijab, according to the attackers. Or the serial murders of women in Mashhad by someone who thought they didn’t deserve to live.”
In October 2014, 10 women who were accused of not properly observing the Islamic hijab became victims of acid attacks in Isfahan, central Iran.
To date, no one has been tried for the violence against the women, but a human rights activist, Ali Shariati, is serving a five-year prison sentence for protesting against the attacks in front of Parliament.
Saeed Hanaei murdered as many as 16 women in Mashhad between 2000-01 to, in his words, “clean the city” of women who were not properly observing the hijab.
“Fire at will means that these kinds of individuals can bypass the law, including common law and the Islamic Penal Code, even though the latter itself clearly contains many examples which allow such unjust acts,” Ebadi told CHRI.
“The code, ratified after the 1979 revolution, allows someone to commit murder as punishment for apostasy or insulting the Prophet (Mohammad) or Islam and present that as his defense in court,” she added.
Ebadi continued: “Unfortunately, this aspect of the Islamic Penal Code has been widely abused, particularly regarding Baha’i compatriots who have been murdered under such pretexts. The most recent example was a Baha’i killed in Yazd.”
Sixty-three-year old Farhang Amiri, a Baha’i man that was well-known in his community, was stabbed to death outside his home in the city of Yazd in September 2016. The suspects confessed that they killed Amiri because he was an “apostate,” a source close to the victim told CHRI at the time.
Article 295 of the version of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code that was ratified in 2001 states: “If a person commits murder on the basis of retribution or punishment for heresy… and he proves his claim in court, then the punishments for murder are not applied.”
A 2013 amended version of the code omitted that article, however, the Baha’i community remains as one of the most severely persecuted religious minorities in Iran. The faith is not recognized in the Islamic Republic’s Constitution and its members face harsh discrimination in all walks of life as well as prosecution and deadly acts of violence for engaging in public displays of their faith.
“The most obvious other example of the application of the fire at will order was the case that became know as the ‘chain murders’ of political opponents,” said Ebadi.
A number of Iranian dissidents and intellectuals were murdered between 1988-99 in Iran in what came to be known as the “chain murders.”
An investigation by President Mohammad Khatami’s reformist government at the time concluded that the murders had been carried out by “rogue elements in the Intelligence Ministry,” forcing the minister in charge, Ghorbanali Dorri Najafabadi, to resign.
Top ministry officials Saeed Eslami (Emami), Mostafa Kazemi and Mehrdad Alikhani were also arrested, and information about the murders was leaked to the media.
During a judicial inquiry, the prosecution revealed that the chain murders were part of a systematic policy to physically eliminate political and cultural dissidents inside and outside of Iran—a policy that had begun a decade earlier with the assassination of moderate opposition politician Kazemi Sami, on November 23, 1988.
“The murders of Parvaneh Eskandari and (her husband) Dariush Forouhar, Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh was a big scandal,” Ebadi told CHRI. “At the time, when President Mohammad Khatami insisted on a judicial investigation, I was the lawyer representing the Forouhar family.”
Between November 19 and December 9, 1998, writer Majid Sharif, opposition politician Dariush Forouhar, his wife Parvaneh Eskandari and writers Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh were murdered.
“What was interesting was that all the accused individuals in this case were agents and senior officials of the Intelligence Ministry who claimed to have received orders directly from the minister at the time, Mr. Ghorbanali Dorri Najafabadi,” continued Ebadi.
“Naturally, these people could not have carried out actions without coordinating with higher officials,” she said. “The accused even claimed that they had kept the supreme leader informed through one of his relatives, a cleric whose name is mentioned in the case file.”
Continued Ebadi: “Testimonies show that the person responsible for the murders of Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar complained about why he was being accused of murder. He said he had acted on the orders of the Intelligence Ministry. He said, ‘Look at my salary slip where it says I received over-time pay for carrying out the operation at 11pm. Now you have the audacity to put me on trial for murder?’”
Added Ebadi: “In order to remove connections to higher authorities, the most senior member of the chain murders’ gang, Saeed Emami, was eliminated under suspicious circumstances and today he is hailed as a martyr on his gravestone,” added Ebadi.
“They got rid of him to hide the fact that he had followed orders from above when he fired at will,” she said. “Now you can fire at will, openly.”
Meanwhile, the long list of murders by Iranian security agents of other intellectuals and political activists since the revolution nearly four decades ago has never been investigated. Those names include, Mohammad Sharif, a publisher of books on the works of Western-educated religious thinker Ali Shariati, journalist Sharif Davani, writer Ahmad Amir-Alaei, translator Ghaffar Hosseini, publisher Ebrahim Zalzadeh, entertainer Fereydoun Farrokhzad, and Masoumeh Mosaddegh, the granddaughter of former Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.