Reformist Journalist Tortured Under Ghalibaf’s Police Command Demands Accountability
A reformist journalist who was detained and tortured in a secret detention center under the supervision of current Iranian presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf in 2004, when Ghalibaf was the commander of police forces, is demanding accountability.
“Before thinking about becoming president, Ghalibaf should think about his numerous actions against the rights of citizens during his command and explain the dark areas of his past,” said Shahram Rafizadeh in a recent interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Rafizadeh was one among a group of journalists and bloggers arrested by the police’s security unit in Tehran when Ghalibaf was the commander of police forces (2000-05) during a crackdown in 2004.
The detainees were subjected to physical and psychological abuse, as well as prolonged periods of solitary confinement in a secret detention center in Tehran without access to legal counsel or family.
“He was the commander of the unit that detained us,” said Rafizadeh who spoke to CHRI from exile in the United States. “They had a secret location in Javanan Sq. (in Tehran) and everything that went on there was under his supervision.”
The current mayor of Tehran, Ghalibaf is one of six candidates running in Iran’s presidential election on May 19, 2017.
The state-funded “Sacred Defense” website, which purports to document the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), boasts of his role in “the arrests and interrogations of dozens of intellectuals, journalists, editors of news sites and bloggers” as some of Ghalibaf’s “achievements.”
The biography of Ghalibaf was taken down on May 8, 2017, but an archived version can be found here.
“The Bloggers Case,” as it came to be known as, involved the arrest of Rafizadeh along with bloggers and journalists Omid Memarian, Hanif Mazrooie, Masoud Ghoreishi, Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, Arash Naderpour, Reza Vatankhah, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh and Javad Gholamtamimi in September and October 2004.
At the time of his arrest in 2004, Rafizadeh was editor of the cultural section of the reformist Etemad newspaper.
In February 2009, Branch 1059 of Tehran’s Judiciary Court sentenced four of the detainees arrested in the 2004 crackdown— Shahram Rafizadeh, Omid Memarian, Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, and Javad Gholamtamimi—to prison terms of up to three years and three months each and floggings for allegedly “participating in the establishment of illegal organizations,” “membership in illegal organizations,” “propaganda against the state,” “disseminating lies,” and “disturbing public order.”
Ghalibaf Defends His Actions
“We were not the only ones who were arrested by the police under Ghalibaf’s command,” Rafizadeh told CHRI. “There were two other cases involving dozens of people, including a lot of movie critics. Many of them met terrible fates.”
“One of them was Kambiz Kaheh,” he added. “I haven’t seen him write anything since then. Next they rounded up mostly business reporters. Hundreds were summoned and interrogated. Some of the detainees were very famous, such as artist Aydin Aghdashlou.”
“Siamak Pourzand had the worst tragic fate,” Rafizadeh told CHRI. “He was forced to make confessions by the same police security unit under Ghalibaf’s command… He took his own life.”
Pourzand, an intellectual and writer, committed suicide in 2011 at the age of 80, ten years after he was detained and tortured during Ghalibaf’s reign.
“Mr. Ghalibaf was insistent on torturing, imprisoning and ruining the careers of journalists as well as artists and intellectuals working in the theater and film industry on the basis of my husband’s forced confessions,” Pourzand’s wife, human rights advocate Mehrangiz Kar said in a May 2017 interview with CHRI. “With such a background, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf is not fit to become president.”
“When we were released, Mr. Ghalibaf had become a presidential candidate (in the 2005 election),” Rafizadeh told CHRI. “After one of his campaign speeches, Hanif Mazrooie, one of the journalists who was arrested with us, asked him about the case and Ghalibaf denied doing anything wrong.”
Continued Rafizadeh: “In fact, two months after we were detained, the police threw tear and pepper gas inside our van as we were being transferred to court to hear the charges against us. It was during the month of Ramadan. Instead of apologizing, Mr. Ghalibaf only conceded that it was wrong to take such action during Ramadan, but defended the officers under his command for using the gas because he said the detainees wanted to cause trouble.”
“But there were only seven or eight of us in the van, blindfolded and handcuffed,” he added. “There was no way we could cause any trouble. This was a lie and we wrote a letter to him to remind him what had happened.”
Hanif Mazrooie, a journalist arrested by the police in 2004, told CHRI about how Ghalibaf privately told him that the crackdown was instigated by rogue police forces and promised to punish them. However, Ghalibaf blamed the detainees in public speeches, claiming they posed a “security threat.”
“When we met him, Ghalibaf was still the police chief and a candidate in the 2005 presidential election. There were six of us, including Masoud Ghoreishi, a blogger in Tehran, and Hadi Ghabel, a blogger in Qom,” he said. “We explained what had happened to us and how we had been treated during the interrogations and the tear gas incident. We told him everything.”
Continued Mazrooie: “When we were detained, my father wrote a letter to (President Mohammad) Khatami (1997-2005), who ordered the interior minister to find out where we were being held. When we met Mr. Ghalibaf, he told us that he complied with the interior ministry’s order and found out that the detention center was run by a security unit of the police, like their own private prison, and he promised to punish the interrogators.”
“However, twice during his (2005) presidential campaign Ghalibaf put the blame on us and claimed that tear gas was used to prevent us from being a security threat,” said Mazrooie. “I heard about this and I confronted him when he spoke at the university. He said I was lying and he had never made those statements at our meeting.”
During his second presidential campaign in 2013, Ghalibaf admitted using brutal force to quell a student uprising at Tehran University in July 1999.
“There’s a picture of me carrying a stick on a 1000cc motorcycle. I was with (radical Basij militiaman) Hossein Khaleghi,” he said during a meeting with Basij militiamen in March 2013. “We were there to wipe the streets clean (of student protesters). We were part of the club wielders and proud of it.”