Religion Presumed Muslim
Civil status —
Affiliation no political affiliation
Date of execution July 2009
Location Tehran, Iran
Mode of execution death in custody
Charges Unknown charge
About this Case
News of the killing of Ms. Taraneh Musavi was published on the websites of Radio Zamaneh on September 21, 2009, Students of Nushirvani Technical University in Babol on August 25, the BBB Iran Newsletter on August 21, HRANA (Human Rights Activists News Agency) on July 28 and August 21, Hammihan on August 20, Jamejam on August 19, ILNA (Iranian Labor News Agency) on August 11, Pejvak Iran on July 18, and the Association of Iranian Political prisoners (in exile), which quoted the Zirzamin weblog on July 14, 2009.
News of the disappearance and death of Ms. Taraneh Musavi was first published by weblogs inside Iran on July 14 and 18, 2009. According to Pejvak, quoting the Zirzamin weblog, “A friend of Taraneh Musavi who wanted to remain anonymous stated that Taraneh had a haircut class near the intersection of Mirdamad and Shari’ati [in Tehran] on June 28. She parked her car on a street near Hosseinieh Ershad and Mirdamad. When she saw people gathering on Qoba Street and around Hossenieh Ershad, she called a friend and said that they should check out the Qoba Mosque before going to the haircut class and set up a meeting with her friend near the Qoba Mosque. According to her friend, she was arrested, wearing a green manteau and green headscarf, by government agents at Shari’ati Street, while waiting for her friend. This friend saw her being arrested while approaching their meeting location. Taraneh was taken away in a van. The evidence of her arrest was not limited to this report. Some of those who were arrested during the Qoba Mosque incident contacted her family and informed them of her arrest. While in detention, Taraneh Musavi gave her home phone number and the phone number of a friend to some of the detainees and asked them to inform her family of her arrest in case they were released. Those [detainees], who were transferred, along with Taraneh, to a building near Pasdaran [Avenue], stated that she was crying and saying repeatedly that she had not been there to participate in the demonstration but merely to attend her haircut class. However, some of her friends stated that Taraneh had been present during peaceful demonstrations on June 15, 16, and 17, 2009 and that even before the election, she had participated in the Green Chain to express her support for reform and freedom in Iran.”
According to the Pejvak website, on July 17, a friend of Taraneh Musavi called her parents’ house to ask about her, but received the news of her death and discovery of her burned body on a road between Karaj and Qazvin. The family avoided speaking about the time and place of her burial ceremony and stated that they could not offer more explanation. After many calls and follow up attenmpts by friends of Taraneh, her family demanded that her friends not call anymore and that it was best for them to be silent.
HRANA on July 28, 2009, quoted the International Committee Against Capital Punishment saying, “Taraneh Musavi, according to several detainees, was seen last at the Basij Base where she was interrogated. Basij agents separated this young girl from the other detainees and raped her. Taraneh Musavi was raped brutally several times by several Basij agents. She lost consciousness due to severe injuries of her uterus and vagina. Noticing her grave condition, Basiji agents took her to the Imam Khomeini Hospital in Karaj, hoping to relate the injuries of her uterus, vagina, and anus to a driving accident. At the hospital, however, the physician’s examination indicated that the cause of injuries had been rape and not an accident. With coordination and advice of their higher ranking officials, Basiji agents, who became confused and worried, took the unconscious and half-dead body of Taraneh from the hospital and ordered hospital personnel to remain silent about this incident. A nurse, who wants to remain anonymous, however, identified Taraneh Musavi.
According to the BBB Iran Newsletter, the Head of Basij personally interrogated some of the detainees from the Qoba Mosque gathering on June 28, 2009. According to this site, the detention site was separate from the interrogation and torture rooms. Detainees were handed over to interrogators at the entrance of the interrogation room and no guard or other personnel, except interrogators, could enter this building. They did not even know what happened beyond those walls and what techniques were used for torture. Ms. Musavi was seen last by those who worked in the complex when she was taken to the interrogation building. Unlike other prisoners, who were returned to the detention center after torture and interrogation, she never returned from the interrogation building. According to this website, with the order of the head of Basij, Ms. Musavi’s name was dropped from the detainees’ list the next day. This was against regulations and without justification. According to this source, “there are two definite facts: [first, the head of Basij] ordered Taraneh Musavi brought before him for interrogation and second, Taraneh Musavi disappeared after that. The first news of this was leaked indirectly by the personnel of this detention center. They were certain that the reason that Taraneh did not return was [the head of Basij’s] sexual abuse of this innocent girl.”
According to the website of Students of Nushirvani Technical University in Babol, “On Sunday August 23, after 10:00 a.m., about 30 to 40 relatives and people close to Taraneh Musavi, martyr of freedom for the country, gathered in Vazivar village near the city of Nur [in the northern province of Mazandaran] to have a small ceremony honoring her forty days after her death. Taraneh’s father had died of a heart attack a week after the incident and there was no news of her mother for ten days. She did not participate in the ceremony and only Taraneh’s uncle and aunts were present. The ceremony took place in a mosque in Chamanestan. The family was pressured by the security forces to hold a quiet ceremony. Security forces were present during the ceremony and controlled the area.”
News of Ms. Musavi’s killing became widespread when Mehdi Karubi published a letter to Hashemi Rafsanjani in which he pointed out the rape of prisoners in detention centers. In this letter, also published by HRANA on August 8, Mr. Karubi wrote: “some individuals have raped young girls with such violence that it resulted in injuries and the tearing of their sexual organs… I was told these issues by individuals who have held sensitive positions in this country… On the other hand, some individuals have brutally raped young male prisoners. As a result some became depressed with serious psychological and physical problems and stayed at home…”
The Islamic Republic authorities reacted harshly to Mr. Karubi’s letter. A wave of criticism and objection against his statements began. For example, during a televised program, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (state-run radio and television) on August 10 announced that there were only three people with the name of Taraneh Musavi in the whole country including a two-year-old girl, a forty-something, and a person, born in 1984, who resides in Paris. In this program, a broadcast interview with a mother and daughter claimed that "their Taraneh" resides in Vancover, Canada. The Deputy Chief of Police repeated the same claim the next day.
On August 12, the speaker of the Islamic Parliament stated that no evidence of torture or rape of prisoners was found during the investigation. On August 14, Imams of Tehran and Qom also attacked Mr. Karubi’s statements harshly during their Friday sermons. The Imam of Qom, for instance, asked officials to “arrest and punish the individual who had claimed [occurrence of] such acts.”
Defending his statements on August 17, Mehdi Karubi said, “those two women who were introduced on Iranian television as the mother and sister of Taraneh Musavi, have no relation with the girl of the same name who was raped and killed.” He described the details and said that officials demanded a family, who had a bride residing in Canada, to participate in the television show and claim that their bride is the same Taraneh Musavi killed [by Basij] in order to distort the real incident. Then Mr. Karubi referred to his conversation with a son of this family, whom he called a well-known political and scientific figure. This person happened to be the brother-in-law of the Head of Basij. During this conversation, this person indicated that his family participated in the fabricated show against their will and found it expedient to do so. According to Karubi, “the Head of Basij was the main orchestrator of a self-made show about Taraneh Musavi.” Karubi also added that the Head of Basij “had similar records of such acts while in the Intelligence Ministry in the past. Because of this the head of the state at the time had fired him from the Intelligence Ministry” (HRANA on August 21, 2009).
According to the HRANA report on September 21, 2009, officials never accepted any responsibility for the killing of Ms. Musavi. The Public Prosecutor of Iran stated that a person named Taraneh Musavi did not truly exist and that all claims regarding her were false. He, as well as the First Deputy of the head of the Judiciary, and the Head of the Administrative Committee of the Judiciary, were members of a commission ordered by the Head of the Judiciary to investigate complaints against the security forces’ violations during recent arrests. In its first report published on September 12, this commission called documents by Mehdi Karubi on the rape of male and female detainees "forged."
Reaction of the International Human Rights Organiztions
According to HRANA, on August 14, Mr. Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, announced that he had received many complaints from detained protesters after the Iranian election about their abuse in prison and that he had received at least 300 reports of cases regarding the torture of Iranian detainees. Also, according to the Deutsche Welle’s press release on August 15, 2009 on its website, Amnesty International demanded an immediate investigation by experts regarding torture and rape in Iran’s prisons. On August 15, Ms. Irene Khan, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, said that she asked Ali Khamenei, the religious leader of Iran, to invite an international and independent group of experts to investigate torture in prisons of the Islamic Republic as soon as possible. Irene Khan added that reports from Iran indicated that both men and women were raped and tortured in Iran’s prisons. According to her, these incidents of torture resulted in death in some cases. Irene Khan said the Iranian religious leader must act immediately to end this period of violence and abuse. Official denial is not enough. What is needed is a comprehensive investigation about accusations of torture, rape, and other abuses in the prisons of the Islamic Republic. The Secretery General of the Amnesty International stated that if both internal and external confidence is the goal, the religious leader of Iran must invite an independent and international expert group to investigate these allegations.
Summary of Post-Election Events in Iran
Election returns from Iran’s June 12th, 2009, presidential election declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected with 62.63 percent of the vote. Following the announcement, citizens disputing these official results demonstrated in the streets. Text messaging services were disrupted starting at 11:00 p.m. on the night before the election and remained unavailable for nearly three weeks, until July 1st. On Election Day, the deputy chief of Iranian police announced a ban on any gathering of presidential candidates’ supporters throughout the country. The same evening, security forces made a “show of strength,” increasing their presence in Tehran’s public squares to “reinforce security at polling stations.” Officials at election headquarters began reporting results soon after midnight, despite a statement from the Minister of the Interior that the first returns would not be announced until after the Morning Prayer (around 4:00 a.m.).
Many supporters of other presidential candidates came out into the streets on June 13th, once the results were made public, to protest what they believed to be a fraudulent election. Candidates Mir Hossein Musavi, Mehdi Karubi, and Mohsen Reza’i, Ahmadinejad’s competitors in the race, contested the election, alleging many instances of fraud. They filed complaints with the Council of Guardians, the constitutional body charged with vetting candidates before elections take place and approving the results afterwards, requesting an annulment and calling for a new election. Before the Council of Guardians could review their claims, however, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, congratulated Ahmadinejad on his re-election. In the meantime, many people active in Karubi’s and Musavi’s campaigns were arrested.
On June 15th, unprecedented demonstrations filled the streets of central Tehran, in which an estimated three million protestors participated, according to statements attributed to the mayor of Tehran. As the demonstrations were ending, paramilitary forces attacked the marchers, injuring and killing several people. To prevent such news from being broadcast, the Iranian government expelled foreign journalists from the country and banned news agencies from reporting on the events. Over the next three days, protesters took part in peaceful demonstrations in Tehran. The repression entered a new phase on June 19th after Ayatollah Khamenei’s Friday sermon. The speech was understood by many, including Amnesty International, as giving “legitimacy to police brutality.” The next day and thereafter, police and plainclothes paramilitary groups attacked the protesters. Public gatherings of any kind were declared illegal, and police, motorcycle-riding special units wearing black uniforms and helmets, and plainclothes agents brutally enforced this restriction.
Individuals in civilian clothing, commonly referred to as plainclothes forces, are used in the Islamic Republic to disrupt political and trade union activities, student events and gatherings, electoral initiatives, and protests. Armed with sticks and clubs, and sometimes with chains, knives, batons, or firearms, they emerge when the state decides to suppress dissent. These plainclothes forces move about freely, violently beating protesters and arresting them, while the police passively look on or actively cooperate with them.
There is little information on the command structure and organization of such groups, whose members wear ordinary clothing rather than official uniforms and may be affiliated with the ministry of information, influential political groups, or the armed forces. Following the post-election demonstrations in June 2009, pictures of some plainclothes agents were posted on internet websites. Internet users helped to identify some of them and provided evidence that these individuals were affiliated with the Basij paramilitary groups, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and state intelligence forces. On September 16, 2009, a deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps of the Province of Tehran confirmed the active and decisive role of Basij forces in the repression of the demonstrations, saying, “Basijis, through their presence in recent events, have blinded the eyes of the conspirators, and they should be appreciated… The enemies of Islam wanted to make the air dusty and to exploit the recent events, but thank God, through the enlightenment of the Honorable Leader we were victorious against this conspiracy.” He also emphasized, “The zealous youth of [the] Basij, believers in the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent, are the second and third generations of the Revolution. They have been successful in this stage and victorious on this battlefield.”
When personal property was damaged during the protests, government authorities and state-run radio and television programs accused the demonstrators of vandalism and justified the repression. At the same time, however, footage posted online showed security forces destroying and damaging property on side streets and in uncongested areas away from the protests. Moreover, in a public gathering in Tehran on October 20th, the chief of Iranian police conceded that police had destroyed and damaged property and accepted responsibility for it.
The precise number of citizens injured, killed, or disappeared in the post-election violence is not known. According to various reports, there were hundreds of victims in demonstrations throughout the country. More than seventy names have been reported. It is said that officials have threatened victims’ family members, demanding their silence and that they refrain from giving interviews. Reports also allege that returning a victim’s body to a family has been made conditional upon their agreement to change the cause of death listed on the coroner’s certificate to that of a heart attack or some other natural cause — thus foregoing the right to file a complaint — as well as the family's agreement not to hold memorial services for the loved one.
According to government statements, more than 4,000 people were arrested throughout Iran in the weeks following June 12th. Many have been held at the Kahrizak Detention Center, where prisoners’ rights and minimum hygiene standards were typically ignored. Numerous reports of violence, including the torture and rape of detainees, have been published. State reports and testimonies confirm that a number of detainees at Kahrizak died in custody due to beatings, difficult and unbearable prison conditions, and torture.
Human rights violations in this case
The legal context
Read about the courts, the judges, and the procedure.
Special courts, known as the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunals, were set up after the February 1979 revolution. Their jurisdiction encompasses a wide array of offences ranging from association with or support of the former regime, promotion of foreign influence, and enmity with the revolution to possession, use or sales of narcotic drugs, murder, and profiteering. In the 1980s, a penal court, presided over by one judge, was created to handle some of the offenses punishable by death, such as theft or adultery. These tribunals’ decisions must be confirmed by a chamber of the Supreme Judicial Council.
Prosecutors and judges are not necessarily jurists. By 1981, the judiciary was purged of judges trained in law schools. They were replaced by seminary graduates and students, as well as by political appointees (an estimated 2000 by 1989). Since by law judges are only required to have a high school diploma and must be faithful to the Islamic Republic’s tenets, new recruits often have little formal training in the law and are chosen because of their political affiliation.
The procedures of these ecclesiastical tribunals fail to meet the minimum guarantees for fair trial as established by international human rights instruments and by sha’ria (the Islamic system of law). In addition to executions ordered by revolutionary tribunals, extra-judicial executions are carried out, targeting dissidents and opposition leaders. In some cases, both inside and outside of Iran, these executions have been traced back to Iranian officials. It is, however, not known if in these particular cases trials are held in absentia.
Sources (Among others): Amnesty International, Law and Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, February 1980; Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, The Justice System of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1992; E/CN.4/1989/26 p.14; UNCHR, Resolution 1984/54 , Abolition of Torture - Iran - 1; 28 November 1984; Report on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran by the Special Representative of the Commission, Mr. Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, 28 January 1987. Amnesty International, A SHOCKED WORLD WATCHES IN DISBELIEF, VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS, 1987-1990. Memoirs of Ayatollah Khalkhali, religious judge and former head of revolutionary tribunals (2001), and Ayatollah Montazeri, dismissed successor to Ayatollah Khomeini (2001). UNCH, E/CN.4/1994/50, Final report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran prepared by the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, pursuant to Commission resolution 1993/62 of 10 March 1993 and Economic and Social Council decision 1993/273. E/CN.4/1994/50, 2 February 1994.
Based on the available information, some or all of the following human rights may have been violated in this case:
The right to liberty and security of the person. The right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 9.1.
The right not to be punished for any crime on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time it was committed.
UDHR, Article 11.2; ICCPR, Article 15, Article 6.2.
The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to change and manifest one’s religion or belief.
UDHR, Article 18; ICCPR, Article 18.1, ICCPR, Article 18.2;
Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Article 1 and Article 6.
In its general comment 22 (48) of 20 July 1993, the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee observed that the freedom to "have or to adopt" a religion or belief necessarily entailed the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one's current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views, as well as the right to retain one's religion or belief. Article 18, paragraph 2, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert.
The right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.
UDHR, Article 19; ICCPR, Article 19.1 and ICCPR, Article 19.2.
The right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 21.
The right to due process
Pre-trial detention rights
The right to know promptly and in detail the nature and cause of the charges against one.
UDHR, Article 9(2); ICCPR, Article 9.2 and Article 14.3.a
The right to counsel of one’s own choosing or legal aid and the right to meet with one’s attorney in confidence
ICCPR, Article 14.3.d;
Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 1 , Article 2, Article 5, Article 6, and Article 8.
The right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense case.
ICCPR, Article 14.3.b; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 8
The right not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess to guilt.
ICCPR, Article 14.3.g.
The right not to be subjected to torture and to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
UDHR, Article 5; ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1, and Article 2.
The right to a fair and public trial without undue delay.
ICCPR, Article 9.3, Article 14.1, Article 14.3.c.
The right to examine, or have examined the witnesses against one and to obtain the attendance and examination of defense witnesses under the same conditions as witnesses for the prosecution.
ICCPR, Article 14.3.e.
The right to have the decision rendered in public.
ICCPR, Article 14.1.
The inherent right to life, of which no one shall be arbitrarily deprived.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6.1; Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, Article 1.1, Article 1.2.
The right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.
The right of a person not to be subjected to the capital punishment for an offence committed before the age of eighteen. The right not to be deprived of life while pregnant.
ICCPR, Article 6.5; Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 37.a.