memorial-for-chain-murders-of-iranPolice and plainclothes security agents arrested a prominent human rights lawyer and several members of the Writers Association of Iran at a commemoration event for victims of the “chain murders” of dissidents in the 1990s by agents of the Iranian government.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has learned that Nasser Zarafshan, the legal council for some of the victims’ families who served five years in prison for his defense of human rights, his son Mazdak Zarafshan, Baktash Abtin, a senior member of the Association, and poet Mohammad Mehdipour were among the people who were arrested on December 2, 2016.

“Every year the security and disciplinary forces try to prevent the commemoration ceremony by cutting it short. In the past we have been able to gather around the graves for at least half an hour,” Reza Khandan Mahabadi, a board member of the Writers Association of Iran, told the Campaign. “But this year, from the very start, the security agents called me and a number of other members of the association on (the morning of December 2) and told us we should not take part in the program.”

“Anyone who seemed connected to the commemoration was stopped, and eventually the participants were beaten and taken into custody in a way we had not seen before,” he added.

Abtin and Nasser Zarafshan were released the same day, but Mazdak Zarafshan and three others remain in detention. 

The annual event this year was focused on Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, two prominent members of the Writers Association of Iran who were killed by agents of the Intelligence Ministry in 1998 and buried in Emamzadeh Taher Cemetery in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran, where the event was held.

“The ceremony, which was prevented by overwhelming force and violence, was yet another ‘proud’ achievement for the police and security forces of the Islamic Republic. These actions are a continuation of the same policies that led to the chain murders,” said the Association in a statement posted on their Facebook page on December 2.

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 in cold blood. 

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.

On May 22, 1999, the prosecution’s main witness, Saeed Eslami (Emami) died in custody under mysterious circumstances. As a result, his testimony was sealed and never revealed in court. 

The raiding of the ceremony in December marked the second time in 2016 that an event commemorating victims of the “chain murders” was prevented by security forces. On November 21, a commemoration ceremony organized by Parastou Forouhar for her murdered parents was blocked in Tehran after security forces turned away guests.

“They stopped anyone who wanted to come to our house,” Forouhar, who was summoned to appear in court at Evin Prison in November, told the Campaign. “From what I could see, the agents were not forceful, but they did not show any flexibility either. They wanted everyone to turn back and leave. They were wearing civilian clothes and it wasn’t clear what organization they were from.”