Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Mohammad Rabi'i

About

Age: 64
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Sunni)
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Execution: December 2, 1996
Location: Kermanshah, Kermanshah Province, Iran
Mode of Execution: Unspecified extrajudicial execution

Human rights violations in this case

Extrajudicial killings


Since the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, national and international human rights organizations have blamed the Islamic Republic authorities for the extrajudicial killing of their opponents, both within and outside of Iran's borders. Although over two hundred cases have been reported, the exact number of victims remains unknown.

Extrajudicial executions carried out in Iran are rarely investigated; the few cases that have been investigated have indicated that the Iranian state security apparatus has been involved. Agents of the Islamic Republic have also targeted dissidents outside the country, assassinating opposition members in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and in the United States,.

In many assassination cases outside Iran, local authorities have made no arrests. However, investigations, when they have taken place and been made public, have led to the single hypothesis of State ordered crimes. The organization and execution of these crimes constitute a pattern that Swiss prosecutor Roland Chatelain describes as “common parameters” following a “meticulous preparation.” Similarities between different cases in different countries have created a coherent set of presumptions designating the Islamic Republic as the instigator of these assassinations.

 

In cases involving prominent Iranians assassinated in France, Germany, and Switzerland, local prosecutors have provided evidence linking Iranian authorities to the crimes in question.

 

In France, for example, the Iranian Deputy Minister of Telecommunications has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the 1991 murder of two dissidents. In Germany, agents of Iran's secret services and Lebanese Hezbollah have been convicted for the 1992 murder of four dissidents in Berlin. Currently, the Islamic Republic's Minister of Information and Security at the time of this murder is under an International arrest Warrant launched by German judicial authorities for his involvement.

 

The German court in Berlin found that Iran's political leadership ordered the murder through a "Committee for Special Operations," whose members reportedly include the Leader of the Islamic Republic, the President, the Minister of Information and Security, and other security officials.



The Islamic Republic’s officials have claimed responsibility for some of these assassinations while denying involvement in others. In the 1980s, Iranian authorities justified extrajudicial executions of dissidents and members of the former regime and actively worked for the release of Iranians and non-Iranian agents who were detained or convicted in the West for their involvement in those killings. During the 1990s, they systematically denied any involvement in extrajudicial killings and often credited the killings to infighting amongst the opposition.

 

Still, the rationale supporting these killings was articulated as early as in the spring of 1979 when the First Revolutionary religious judge publicly announced the regime's intention to carry out extrajudicial executions. He said:

 

“no state has the right to try as a terrorist the person who kills [exiles] in foreign lands, for this person is implementing the verdict issued by the Islamic Revolutionary tribunal.”

 

More than a decade later, in August, 1992, the Minister of Intelligence and Security publicly boasted about the success of Iran's security forces, alluding to the elimination of dissidents:

 

"We have been able to deal blows to many of the mini-groups outside the country and on the borders...."

Human rights violations

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 association with others, including the right to form and join trade union for the protection of one’s interests.

    UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 22.1.

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 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.

Trial rights

    • 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.

Judgment rights

  • The right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction.

    ICCPR, Article 14.5.

  • The right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence.

    ICCPR, Article 6.4.

Capital punishment
  • 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.

About this Case

Mr. Molla Mohammad Rabi’i (Mamusta Rabi’i,) Sunni Muslim and Friday Prayer leader of the city of Kermanshah, was a victim of a series of political murders that came to be known as the “Serial Murders.”  He was a “Mufti” (an expounder and interpreter of Islamic laws in Sunni Islam who has the authority to issue “Fatwas” or religious rulings) of the Shafe’i branch of Islam, Information regarding his life, activities, and murder, were gathered from numerous sources including the weblog of his works, Jomhuri Eslami daily newspaper (December 1996), his wife’s interview with Roozonline (December 26, 2011) and the internet websites of the Biography of Sunni Luminaries, Sunni News, Maktabe Kor’an (Kor’an School,) from the book  “The Tragedy of Democracy in Iran”  by Emadoddin Baqi, and the United Nations Special Representative’s Report of January 18, 2000.

Biography

Mr. Mohammad Rabi’i was born in 1311 (1932-33) in the village of Darasb, city of Divandarreh, Kurdistan Province. He pursued his religious studies with teachers in various regions of Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan, and was granted the right to issue “Fatwas” and teach theology in 1343 (1964-65.) In 1345 (1966-67,) representing Iran, he won second place in a Qur’an recitation contest. Upon returning to Iran, he was put in charge of a radio program conducted in Kurdish. He also taught the Qur’an and its correct recitation, pronunciation, and intonation, in the Ardebilis  school and the Emadoddoleh  mosque. In 1351 (1972-73) he became the Friday prayer leader of city of Kermanshah’s Shafe’i Mosque. He was considered a major religious figure of the Shafe’i sect in Kurdistan. In the fall of 1978, at the request of the people of Kermanshah, Mr. Rabi’i became the Friday Prayer leader as well as the orator of Kermanshah’s Shafe’i Mosque. Mr. Rabi’i was married and had two sons and a daughter. (Website of Molla Rabi’is Life and Works, website of the Biography of Sunni Luminaries)

Professional Life

Mr. Rabi’i was fluent in Farsi, Kurdish, and Arabic. He had a pleasant voice and in the holy month of Ramadan, his recitation of the Qur’an and other religious prayers were broadcast on the radio as well as in Kermanshah mosques. He has numerous works in Kurdish, Farsi, and Arabic, including  “Baqiat Al-Salehat”  which is the complete laws of the Shafe’i school of Islam. Other works include “Hasht Ordibehesht,” “Hazrat Osman,” “Dokandaran-e Tariqat” (“Merchants of Faith,”) “Alijenab Guril” (“His Highness the Gorilla”) (a novel) and a collection of poems containing four thousand couplets. (Biography of Sunni Luminaries)

According to his wife, Mr. Rabi’i loved people and his country Iran, and strongly believed in raising awareness in the youth and in [advocating] unity between the Shi’a and Sunni sects. (Roozonline, December 26, 2011) His mastery of current events and scientific advances, as well as his persuasive words, had resulted in great unity among the Sunni population of the region, particularly in Kermanshah; Sunnis from all over and even certain Shi’as would come to him for advice and for the resolution of their [religious] issues. During his tenure as Friday Prayer leader in Kermanshah, a large number of people had started to attend the Imam Shafe’i Mosque. He was a close friend and associate of Allameh Ahmad Moftizadeh* in the early period of the Revolution and was a member of a group of Sunni representatives in the talks conducted with Ayatollah Taleqani and his delegation. (Website of Molla Rabi’I’s Works)

The Shafe’i Sect

 “Shafe’i is a branch of Sunni Islam that follows the teachings of Abu Abdollah Mohammad Edriss Shafe’i, one of the four Imams of Sunnat and Jama’at. The Shafe’i sect is the third oldest religion of Sunni Islam and follows [the teachings and the traditions of the Prophet] Mohammad and [his successors] Abu Bakr, Omar, Osman, and Ali [the Four Caliphs.] Mamusta is a title given to religious scholars in Kurdistan.

Short background on the “Chain Murders”

“Chain Murders” refers to a set of disappearances and extra-judicial killings of writers and political dissidents which mainly occurred in the 1990’s. In January 1999, the Ministry of Intelligence published an announcement in which it squarely put the blame for four such killings (those of Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar, Mohammad Mokhtari, and Mohammad Ja’far Puyandeh) on rogue elements within the Ministry, without providing any explanation as to the causes and manner of killing of tens of [other] dissidents and writers. A number of the Ministry of Intelligence agents were arrested and charged with the above-mentioned four persons’ murders. On June 20, 1999, it was announced that the primary suspect, Sa’id Emami, had committed suicide in prison. According to the victims’ lawyers, numerous pages of Emami’s confession had been deleted from the Serial Murders file. Based on independent research and the confessions of [a number of] the accused, however, the elimination of dissidents - the magnitude of which is still not clear was the official policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Ministry of Information for over a decade.

Mr. Rabi’i’s name has repeatedly been mentioned as a victim of Serial Murders in the print media during the years 1998 to 2002. Also, the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s report of January 18, 2000, mentions the killing of Sunni clerics.  “[t]here were demands that the investigation be broadened to include many other suspicious deaths going back to 1994… [involving] 50 or more unexplained deaths in recent years. Included were the 1994 deaths of three Christian ministers which had been officially attributed to the Mujahedin, the deaths of Sunni community leaders, and the deaths of dissidents in bombings in Europe”.(UN Special Representative Report, E/CN.4/2000/35, January 18, 2000)

The Assassination

On Sunday, December 2, 1996, Mr. Mohammad Rabi’i left his house at 12:30 P.M to go to work at the Kermanshah Radio and Television Station and never returned. His body was found around 1:00 A.M. near the [city of] Sanandaj-Tehran [bus] terminal, lying next to his car, his turban under his head, his glasses and “aba” (traditional cloak worn by clerics) on his chest; the body had been placed facing Mecca [where Muslims face to say their daily as well as other Islamic prayers; the dying and the dead are also placed facing Mecca.] (Roozonline, December 26, 2011)

Protesting Mr. Rabi’i’s murder, his followers organized demonstrations on the day of his burial, December 3, which resulted in anti-riot and military units intervening, leading to violence which eventually spread to other Kurdish towns. Several Kurdish towns were closed down for a few days. Many of the protestors were injured and many others, arrested. A police officer and a young college student were shot dead in Kermanshah and in the town of Ravansar, respectively. (Jomhuri Eslami newspaper, December 7, 1996 and December 16,1996, Website of Molla Rabi’i’s works, Sa’id Emami’s speech in Hamedan University, “The Tragedy of Democracy”, page 273)

Officials’ Reaction

The authorities never officially accepted responsibility for the murder. Subsequent to Mr. Rabi’i’s murder, the agents transferred the body to the Medical Examiner’s office for an autopsy, without his family’s consent and before they could see the body. Within a few short hours, the cause of death was announced as heart attack, and the family was pressured into signing the autopsy report. Further, the family was not allowed to have funeral ceremonies and mourning rituals at the gravesite. (Roozonline, December 26, 2011)

Subsequent to the family’s refusal to confirm the security forces’ determination of the cause of death as heart attack, and after widespread popular demonstrations in various towns in the province [of Kurdistan], 15 well-known Sunni leaders issued an announcement, reportedly under pressure from the security forces. The announcement stated in part:  “Subsequent to [careful and] scrupulous investigations into the late Mollah Mohammad Rabi’i’s cause of death, it has been determined conclusively that, although his passing was a blow to Islam, it was, however, a natural death (heart failure) and there is no doubt or uncertainty in this regard.”  (Jomhuri Eslami, December 16, 1996)

A short time after Mr. Rabi’i’s murder, Sa’id Emami, one of the main suspects of the Serial Murders, stated in a speech given at Hamedan University, that the popular demonstrations after his death were a result of “instigations by the supporters of the School of Qur’an, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Wahabi’s.” (“The Tragedy of Democracy”, page 273)

According to Mr. Rabi’i’s wife, after the Serial Murders were exposed, his family’s numerous efforts and follow-ups with the office of the President and Mr. Shushtari, (the then-Minister of Justice) to have his murder investigated as part of the Serial Murders, bore no fruit.

The Family’s Statements

Mr. Rabi’i’s family who have sought remedies within the framework of the Islamic Republic, believe that they have been denied justice. They have called the public’s attention to fundamental contradictions in the officials’ statements, denial of access to evidence, and lack of judicial attention to and investigation of the case, in spite of persistent follow ups. 

According to Mr. Rabi’i’s wife, the Information Ministry continually put Mr. Rabi’i under pressure. Every 10-15 days, a security agent named Daneshi would take him to Information offices for questioning. One of these interrogation sessions had particularly caused him to worry. He had been transferred, according to him, to a basement in the historical site of Bisotun, and upon returning home, he had told his wife:  “God was with me today and I’m still alive. I had never shivered in fear before, but I did today. They didn’t take me to the Information offices, but to the outskirts of town, to a basement near Bisotun. As soon as they put me in a car, they drew the curtains [inside the car] and took me away and started asking me very strange questions. I really thought I would not get out alive this time.”   (Interview with Roozonline, December 26, 2011)

Mamusta Rabi’i’s wife refers to demonstrations that broke out in November 1996 in predominantly Sunni regions, in protest of the television series  “Imam Ali.”  ** As the Sunni Friday Prayer leader, Mr. Rabi’i had written a letter to officials of the ministries of Information and Education and a number of others, warning against the consequences of fomenting divisions among the Shi’a and the Sunni. On the day of his murder, prior to leaving the house, Mr. rabi’i had had a lengthy telephone conversation with Daneshi about the letter.  Sometime between leaving the house and the discovery of his body, around 5 P.M., Mr. Rabi’i made a call to his house, sounding anxious and agitated, uttering mostly gibberish. His wife’s account of the call:  “He was asking things such as “Where is this? Who are you?” I said: “Haji Agha, has something happened? What do you mean where is this? Don’t you recognize me?” He said: “I’m at Diselabad, I’m at Diselabad.” And he repeated it a few times and said he had taken his car to be repaired. Then he suddenly said: “Bring my child here, I want to see her.” My daughter was only a year old at the time. I got really scared and just asked him why he was speaking that way and what had happened. He simply said: “I’m dying, I’m dying.” Then he said “I’ll come there myself, in 20 minutes.”   And the line was cut off. That was the last time we heard Haji Agha’s voice.” (Roozonline, December 26, 2011) This call added to the family’s worries since a person they didn’t know called their house repeatedly asking for Mr. Rabi’i.

In her interview with Roozonline, Ms. Mafakheri, pointing to contradictions in the officials’ statements and the pressure put on Mr. Rabi’i’s family, said that the agents that had come to their house had initially stated that Mr. Rabi’i had been killed in the Ta’avoni Subdivision by the forced ingestion of cyanide, but later tried, through force and threats, to get the family to sign a report that stated the cause of death as heart attack. Mr. Rabi’i’s wife emphasized that he was in perfect health and was athletic. Years after the murder, the magnitude of the pressure put on the family by security officials has been such that they no longer even insist on obtaining a permit for the annual commemoration of his death.

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*Allameh Ahmad Moftizadeh was a Sunni Islamic scholar and a leading religious and political figure of Iranian Kurdistan. He was the founder of the Kor’an School of Kurdistan and of the Shams Council (the central council of the Sunni sect) and had spent a long time in prison under [the monarchy, the reign of] Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as well as under the Islamic Republic regime. One of his main demands after the Revolution, was amending the Constitution and restoring consultative rule in Iran (Kor’an School website, Shams website, Wikipedia)

** “Imam Ali” was the title of a historical and religious TV series that was broadcast during the 1996-97 season from Iranian television. This series, produced with government financing, portrayed the five-year rule of the Shi’a’s first Imam in a biased manner, according to Shi’a sources and interpretations, which caused the Sunni leaders as well as their followers to object.

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