Background Briefing

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Pour-Mohammadi and the 1998 Serial Murders of Dissident Intellectuals

Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi was the deputy minister of the Ministry of Information in 1998, when agents of that ministry killed the following five prominent intellectuals and political activists:

  • Darioush and Parvaneh Forohar were killed on November 22 in their Tehran home.
  • Majid Sharif was “disappeared” on November 20; his body was found in a Tehran street on November 25.
  • Mohammad Mokhtari was “disappeared” on December 3; his body was found in a Tehran city morgue on December 9.
  • Jafar Pouyandeh, was “disappeared” on December 9; his body was found on December 13 in a suburb of Tehran.

Darioush and Parvaneh Forohar were long-time political activists and had been leaders of the Mellat Party of Iran since 1951. Sharif, Mokhtari, and Pouyandeh were well-known dissident journalists and writers. 

These killings are known in Iran as the “serial murders.” Under pressure from then-President Mohammad Khatami, on January 5, 1999, the Ministry of Information acknowledged that its agents had perpetrated the murders. Subsequently, the authorities arrested eighteen people and tried them in connection with the killings. On June 20, 1999, the prosecutor of the Judicial Complex for the Armed Forces announced that the mastermind behind the serial killings was a high-ranking official of the Ministry of Information, Saeed Emami, and that Emami had committed suicide while in custody.

Human Rights Watch interviewed several Iranian journalists and human rights defenders who alleged that the chain of command responsible for the serial murders involved other high ranking officials in the ministry. Akbar Ganji, a prominent investigative reporter, has written extensively on this issue.17 With regard to these allegations, Nasser Ghavami, former head of the Parliament’s Judicial Committee, said: “Unfortunately, the judicial process did not proceed along the lines of a credible investigation. Those responsible for ordering these murders were never brought to justice and charges were not filed against them.”18 In November 2000, another parliamentarian, Davood Suleimani, complained that the masterminds and instigators behind the serial murders remain beyond the focus of the judicial investigations. He said, “In this [judicial] case, the issue of those who ordered the crimes and the functionaries who implemented them remains a mystery. This has not satisfied the public opinion. …those who ordered these murders as well as the agents [responsible] must be put on trial.”19 

The Article 90 Commission of the Parliament, named for the article in Iran’s Constitution empowering the Parliament to investigate complaints against any of the three branches of government, launched its own investigation in August 2000, but was unable to complete it.20  As Hussein Ansari-Rad, the head of the commission, said, “Our investigations led to certain people whom we did not have the power to deal with. That’s why the investigations stopped.”21 He further said, “There is much credible and reliable evidence pointing to involvement and participation of others.”22


A source with first-hand knowledge of the Article 90 Committee’s investigation told Human Rights Watch: “The investigators implicated Pour-Mohammadi and even an arrest warrant was about to be issued for him. But instead it was arranged that he leave his post in the Ministry of Information.”23 Another authoritative source, who also asked to remain anonymous, confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the investigations indeed implicated Pour-Mohammadi. Human Rights Watch wrote to Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi on October 28, 2005 asking for his response to these allegations. As of December 8, 2005, Human Rights Watch did not receive any response to its inquiry.

The murders of government opponents were not limited to those inside Iran. From 1990 to 1999, Pour-Mohammadi was also the director of foreign intelligence in the Ministry of Information. During this period, dozens of opposition figures were assassinated abroad. In some of these cases – the assassination of Shahpur Bakhtiar, a former prime minister, and the killings of three Kurdish leaders in exile in Germany, the hand of the Iranian government is well established, while in others there are credible allegations of government involvement.24

Some members of parliament questioned Pour-Mohammadi’s nomination as extreme and dangerous. During confirmation hearings, Imad Afrough, a conservative, opposed his nomination based on his prior performance in security and intelligence posts. “The interior minister must have a deep understanding of citizens’ rights,” Afrough said. “If [the minister] has a one-sided view of these rights, it will lead to crisis.” Referring to Pour-Mohammadi’s role in suppressing urban uprisings in 1992, Afrough asked “I want to know how [Pour-Mohammadi] would deal with [regional] forces that oppose the central government? I have not forgotten how the urban uprisings in Shiraz, Mashad, and Mobarakeh were suppressed brutally and violently, shedding much blood.”25 In his speech, Afrough said that Pour-Mohammadi

hails from a place [Ministry of Information ] … where they are used to closing their eyes and ears, or they are used to coercing others to close their eyes and ears…The nature of the Interior Ministry is such that the minister must be open to seeing and listening [to others]… This gentleman comes from an institutional background where there hasn’t been sufficient oversight. Have you forgotten the events that occurred in the Ministry of Information? How were the murders [of intellectuals and writers] dealt with?26

During the same session of the parliament, Elias Naderan, another conservative MP, noted that Pour-Mohammadi’s tenure as head of the foreign intelligence unit coincided with the assassination of numerous government opponents who were abroad. “With the appointment of an intelligence agent to head the interior ministry, the government’s external challenges will be intensified. Imagine when the interior minister visits a country where there are [judicial] proceedings against us, he can be arrested,” Naderan said.27 

[17] See Akbar Ganji, Tarik-khaneh Ashbah (The Darkroom of Ghosts) and Alijenab Sorkhpoosh (The Red Eminence). Ganji was sentenced to six years in prison in April 2000 because of his writings. He remains imprisoned.

[18] “A brief history of the serial murders,” Iranian Students News Agency, November 20, 2004,

[19] Ibid.

[20] Article 90 of the Iranian Constitution states that: “Whoever has a complaint concerning the work of the Assembly or the executive power, or the judicial power can forward his complaint in writing to the Assembly. The Assembly must investigate his complaint and give a satisfactory reply. In cases where the complaint relates to the executive or the Judiciary, the Assembly must demand proper investigation in the matter and an adequate explanation from them, and announce the results within a reasonable time. In cases where the subject of the complaint is of public interest, the reply must be made public.”

[21] “A brief history of the serial murders,” Iranian Students News Agency, November 20, 2004,

[22] Ibid.

[23] Human Rights Watch interview, September 12, 2005.  This person asked to remain anonymous out of concerns for his safety.

[24]“Iran: ‘Mykonos’ trial provides further evidence of Iranian policy of unlawful state killings,” Amnesty International, April 10, 1997, Index: MDE 13/015/1997.  “Iran: Amnesty International concerned about possible government involvement in deaths of Iranian nationals,” Amnesty International, February 28, 1996, Index: MDE 13/007/1996.

[25] “Parliament discusses nomination of Interior Minister,” Iranian Labour News Agency, August 24, 2005,

[26] Ibid.

[27] “Price of opposing the most controversial proposed minister,” BBC Persian, August 24, 2005,

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