Local Activist Refutes Official Claims That Young Men Killed by Security Forces Amid Sanandaj Protests Were Armed
Two young men who were killed by security forces in the city of Sanandaj in Iran’s Kurdistan Province in early January 2018 were unarmed despite official claims to the contrary, according to a local civil rights activist who has been monitoring the cases of Saro Ghahremani and Kianoosh Zandi.
“What the Islamic Republic has said about them is complete lies,” said Mokhtar Zarei in an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on January 22. “They were not armed, they were not members of any political party and they did not get killed in an armed confrontation. They had no weapons to engage in an armed confrontation.”
Arrested several times since 2010 for engaging in civil rights activism, Zarei is a central committee member of the United Kurdish Front, which advocates an end to discrimination against ethnic Kurds in Iran.
Ghahremani and Zandi, both 24-years old, went missing on January 2, 2018, as protests broke out in Sanandaj against the Iranian government’s economic and repressive policies in the region. The men’s bodies were subsequently delivered to their families on January 13 by Intelligence Ministry agents who forced the families to bury their loved ones in pre-selected plots in the local Beheshte Mohammadi Cemetery that same day.
On January 14, Ghahremani’s father, Mohammad, was coerced by agents of the Intelligence Ministry to claim on Iran’s state-funded Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) service that his son was a member of the outlawed Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan who had been killed in an armed confrontation with security forces.
The governor of Sanandaj, Mohammad Ebrahim Zarei, also alleged that the two men had died in a gunfire exchange with security forces after the men tried to bypass a security checkpoint without stopping.
“Saro was an athlete and a very healthy kid,” Mokhtar Zarei told CHRI. “He was not a member of any political party. Kianoosh was not at all involved in politics either. He had not committed any crime. He was just a normal person.”
Mokhtar Zarei continued: “The night of the incident coincided with protests in several cities, including Sanandaj. In Sanandaj, the Basij militia and law enforcement officials had set up checkpoints at major entry and exit points as well as in other parts of the city. When Saro and Kianoosh drove their car to one of the checkpoints, they did not stop. They were chased by a security car that could have fired bullets at their tires or could have sent a radio message to block Saro’s car, a Kia Pride. But unfortunately, they instead riddled the car with bullets.”
According to the civil rights activist, the incident took place on a busy street near the city’s fruit market and bus terminal.
“Dozens of people witnessed that the car was riddled with bullets and then came to a halt,” he said. “None of the agents checked to see if these kids were alive or dead. They brought a crane, lifted the car with the two still inside, and took it away. The things they are saying about them being armed and killed in a confrontation are totally false. It also not true that they died under torture in the detention center.”
Mokhtar Zarei told CHRI that security forces in the region have displayed a preference for shooting first and asking questions later.
“These kinds of incidents have happened many times in Sanandaj, in Baneh and in Saqqez [cities],” he added. “I think the intention is to finish the story and avoid going to court.”
Mokhtar Zarei continued: “For instance, a few months ago, a car was riddled with bullets by security forces in Sanandaj. There were four passengers. Two of them were members of Komala and the two others were their friends. Three of them died and one of them was wounded. They took the car to the medical examiner’s office with a crane and suddenly noticed that one of the passengers was alive. He was Ramin Hossein-Panahi, who is in prison right now and who was put on trial a few days ago.”
In an interview with the state-funded Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on January 14, Sanandaj Governor Mohammad Ebrahim Zarei alleged that Gharemani had been sentenced to five years in prison for conspiracy to commit an assassination in 2012. The governor also claimed that after serving less than two years, Gharemani “resumed his collaborations with terrorist groups and took up arms to commit criminal acts.”
But according to the civil rights activist, Gharemani was innocent when he was imprisoned in 2012: “A man named Ebrahim Mohammadi was killed in 2012. One of the alleged accomplices mentioned Saro’s name during the interrogation. Saro was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison but later the authorities realized that he had no part in the crime and released him.”
“Saro was only 18 at the time,” said Mokhtar Zarei. “He was a kid and was not involved in politics. For a time he worked at a restaurant owned by [actress] Bahare Rahnama and also did some construction work. He did not have any ties to Komala and was not engaged in any political activities.”