Background Briefing

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Mohseni Ezhei: From Inquisitor to Minister of Information

Gholamhussein Mohseni Ezhei, the new Minister of Information, has been a leading figure in prosecuting reformist clerics and politicians, as well as suppressing press freedoms, in his various capacities with the Judiciary. In January 1999, he signaled the Judiciary’s offensive against the press that has since resulted in the closure of more than 100 newspapers:

The tone of Tus newspaper is instigating people to act against national security. If these crimes are proven in the courts, those responsible are guilty of active resistance [mohareb] against the state and the law is clear what their punishment should be… As the head of the Judicial Complex, I declare that if the opposition newspapers do not heed the Supreme Leader’s second warning, we are responsible to confront them with all our might and seriousness using public courts as well as revolutionary courts.28

On July 6, 1999, the daily Salam published a government memorandum written by Saeed Emami, the intelligence agent who allegedly masterminded the serial murders. In this memorandum, Emami outlined plans for suppressing reformist publications. Mohseni Ezhei, as the prosecutor general of the Special Court for the Clergy (SCC), ordered Salam’s closure the next day. He brought an indictment against Salam’s publisher, Hojatoleslam Seyyid Mohammad Musavi-Khoeiniha, who was convicted a few weeks later by the SCC on charges of defaming a government official, publishing insulting language, and misinforming the public.29

As the prosecutor general of the SCC, Ezhei also supervised the prosecutions of leading reformist clerics, notably Abdullah Nuri and Mohsen Kadivar. In March 1999, the SCC charged Kadivar, a respected Shi`a reformist scholar, with disturbing public opinion, based on a public speech in which he discussed the motives of those responsible for the serial murders. The court also charged him with “propaganda against the sacred system of the Islamic Republic” stemming from an interview in which Kadivar said that structures of shah’s government remained intact. The court sentenced him to one-and-a-half years in prison on both charges.30 In November 1999, the SCC convicted Abdullah Nuri, a former minister of interior and publisher of Khordad newspaper, on charges that his newspaper published articles that “defamed the system” and spread lies and propaganda against the state. He was sentenced to five years in prison.31

Several journalists and activists have alleged that Mohseni Ezhei ordered the murder of Pirouz Davani, a dissident and political activist who was allegedly kidnapped and killed by the agents of the Ministry of Information in 1998. Davani’s body has never been recovered. During his trial in November 2000, Akbar Ganji accused Mohseni Ezhei of ordering Davani’s murder.32 Abdullah Nuri and the investigative journalist Emadin Baghi have made similar accusations against Mohseni Ezhei.33 An authoritative Iranian source told Human Rights Watch that he had first-hand knowledge of the existence of a letter signed by Mohseni Ezhei ordering government agents to kill Davani. He asked to remain anonymous out of concerns for his safety.


In June 1998, Mohseni Ezhei was the presiding judge in the trial of Tehran’s former Mayor Gholamhussein Karbaschi. As mayor, Karbaschi had actively campaigned for the election of Mohammad Khatami as president in 1997. A number of Karbaschi’s deputies were also arrested and Karbaschi said they had been tortured in order to obtain confessions that would incriminate him.34 During his trial, Karbaschi repeatedly asked Mohseni Ejehi to investigate torture and ill-treatment of his co-defendants, but his requests were ignored. The court sentenced Karbaschi to three years in prison and banned him from public office for ten years.35

In 2004, Mohseni Ezhei also served on the Committee to Oversee the Press as the Judiciary’s representative. In one shocking incident, Mohseni Ezhei physically attacked and bit a prominent reformist journalist, Issa Saharkhiz, during a meeting of the committee on May 23, 2004.36

[28] Khordad Daily, January 16, 1999; as quoted by Akbar Ganji in Tarik-khaneh Ashbah.

[29] “Assault on independent press in Iran intensifies,” Human Rights Watch, July 28, 1999.

[30] Text of Mohsen Kadivar’s Trial, Bahay-e Azadi (Tehran: Nashr-e Ney, 2000).

[31] Text of Abdullah Nuri’s Trial, Showkaran Eslah (Tehran: Tarh Now, 1999).

[32] “Call for an end to impunity for murderers and those behind serial killings of intellectuals and journalists,” Reporters without Borders, November 21, 2003.

[33] “’Damage’ to the intelligence system,” Roozonline Daily, August 15, 2005.

[34] Text of Gholamhussein Karbaschi’s Trial, Mohakemeh va Defa’, (Tehran: Farhang va Andisheh, 1998).

[35] Ibid.

[36] “Mohseni Ezehi bites Saharkhiz,” BBC Persian, May 24, 2004.

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