Background Briefing

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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.

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, Gholamhussein 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

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, Gholamhussein Mohseni Ezhei led the prosecution of several reformist clerics. In addition, he presided over the politically-motivated trial of former Tehran mayor Gholamhussein 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

[1] “Biographies of proposed ministers”, Iranian Students News Agency, August 14, 2005.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Black month for Iran’s journalists,” Reporters without Borders, November 23, 2005.

[4] 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.

[5] “The Interior Minister appoints Commander Zolghadr to the post of Deputy Minister,” Iranian Students News Agency, November 25, 2005.

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