Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

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

Ahmad Mir'ala'i


Age: 53
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Shi'a)
Civil Status: Married


Date of Killing: October 24, 1995
Location of Killing: Esfahan, Esfahan Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Extrajudicial killing

About this Case

His bookshop in Isfahan was a gathering place for intellectuals and writers. He was neither political nor confrontational, but he had a sharp wit and was firm on matters of principle.

Mr. Ahmad Mir Ala’i, a translator, writer, university lecturer, publisher, and journalist, was one of the victims of a series of political killings that have come to be known as “Chain Murders.” Information about the life, activities, and murder of Mr. Mir Ala’i was gathered from published sources* and an interview conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation with a person close to him.


Mr. Ahmad Mir Ala’i was born in 1942 in the city of Esfahan into a well-educated and cultured family. His paternal grandfather was a clergyman, and his maternal grandfather, a physician and a modernist. He was a fervent supporter of former Prime Minister Mosaddeq and the National Front in his youth (Kelk Monthly, November-December 1995), but he never joined any political group and was not politically active before or after the 1979 Revolution. He was married and had three daughters.

Mr. Mir Ala’i obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from Esfahan University. He subsequently went to Leeds University in the United Kingdom on an academic scholarship and obtained a Master’s Degree in English Language and Literature. He enrolled in the Ph.D. program in English Literature at the Sorbonne (France), but returned to Iran before finishing the program. (Gardun, Vol. 1, November-December 1990)

 Professional Life

Upon returning to Iran in 1967, Mr. Mir Ala’i performed his military service in Sistan and Baluchestan Province as a member of the Knowledge Corps (Sepah Danesh). In the 1970s, he intermittently taught English Literature at Esfahan University, Dramatic Arts University, Esfahan Technical University, Arts University, Azad University, and Karachi University. He also spent four years at Franklin Publishing House [in Tehran] as editor of various literary works. In 1976, he was appointed head of the Iran Culture House in India and Pakistan for four years.

Mr. Mir Ala’i began his literary activities in high school where he established a literary circle and wrote for a wall newspaper. His first translation was published while he was still in college, and he gradually became one of the most respected translators of renowned writers’ literary works in Iran. Writers, including Milan Kundera, [Jorge Luis] Borges, Octavio Paz, [Gabriel Garcia] Marquez, and [V.S.] Naipaul, were introduced to the Iranian audience for the first time through his translations.

At the time of his murder, Mr. Mir Ala’i had published 22 books as well as dozens of articles in literary publications. “Labyrinths” by Jorge Luis Borges, “Clementis’ Hat” [with the actual title “Lost Letters” in the novel “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”] by Milan Kundera, and “Piedra de Sol (Sunstone)” by Octavio Paz, are among his published translations. The Islamic Republic authorities prevented him from publishing some of his works, including two volumes of Lawrence Durrell’s “The Alexandria Quartet,” the first volume of which was [ordered to be] destroyed after publication. (Radio Zamaneh, December 13, 2006)

Between 1969 and 1976, in addition to being an editor at Franklin Publishing in Tehran, Mr. Mir Ala’i was editor-in-chief of “Ketab e Emruz” (“Today’s Book”) magazine, Farhang o Zendegi (“Culture and Life”) quarterly (a Ministry of Culture and Arts publication), Ayandegan e Adabi (a literary publication of Ayandegan newspaper) and Jong e Esfahan (“Esfahan Anthology.”)

Upon returning from India and Pakistan after the Revolution, Mr. Mir Ala’i opened in Esfahan, the Aftab Bookstore and Publishing House in 1989 and engaged in selling books and also publishing them, albeit in a limited way. He also published Zendeh Rud Quarterly, a publication specializing in the subjects of publishing and translation. His bookstore, the name of which was later changed to Zendeh Rud, was one of the few places in Esfahan where intellectuals and dissidents could gather and exchange ideas.

Mr. Mir Ala’i’s affiliation and contact with the intellectual community and with writers, particularly the Iran Writers Association, as well as his efforts in confronting censorship made him the target of pressure and intimidation by the security apparatus.

Mr. Mir Ala’i was a member of the Iran Writers Association’s Advisory Council. (“Yas o Das” by Faraj Sarkuhi) He was one of 134 writers, signatories of a letter, dated October 15, 1994, protesting censorship and the denial of the right to freedom of speech. What follows is a passage from this letter: “…We are writers; that is, we write about and publish our feelings, thoughts and research in various forms. It is our natural, social and civil right to see our work – be it poetry or fiction, plays or screenplays, criticism or research work, and even translation[s] of other writers’ work… – reach our readers freely and without restriction. No person or institution, under any pretext, should be allowed to hamper the publication of these works. Needless to say, any published work is open to free criticism and judgment by all.

 “…While obstacles which face us in our thinking and writing far exceed our individual means and power, we have no alternative but to confront them through collective professional channels, i.e. to unite in order to achieve freedom of thought and expression and to fight against censorship… We reiterate that we are writers and expect to be seen as such, and that our collective presence [is] to be understood as the professional representation of Iranian writers. ” (Official site of Iran Writers Association)

Subsequent to the publication of this letter, the signatories were summoned for interrogations. In the course of one such interrogation, in response to a question posed by one of the interrogators as to why he had signed the open letter protesting the arrest and imprisonment of Sa’idi Sirjani, [a dissident writer who subsequently died in detention under suspicious circumstances,] Mr. Mir Ala’i had responded: “That is my professional duty. I will continue to carry out this duty.” (“It Was Autumn” Mohammad Rahim Okhovat, Akhbar e Rooz)

In 1995, a few months prior to Mr. Mir Ala’i’s murder, Mr. Naipaul, a well-known Trinidadian writer (winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature) working on Islam at the time, travelled to Iran. Aware of his influence in the West and in the Indian sub-continent, the security officials did not allow Mr. Naipaul to meet with the 134 signatories of the afore-mentioned letter. As translator of one of his works (“India, A Wounded Civilization,” 1983), however, Mr. Mir Ala’i had the opportunity to be the interpreter and guide for Mr. Naipaul during his trip to Esfahan, and to paint a picture of the realities in Iran that did not correspond to the one provided by the authorities. Naipaul later published a report of his trip to Iran and of his conversations with Mr. Mir Ala’i. (Naipaul, V.S., 1999, pp. 249-259 and a selection published in The New Yorker, May 26, 1997.) The publication of Naipaul’s report by Mr. Mir Ala’i in the Zendeh Rud, entitled “Naipaul in Esfahan,” resulted in the Quarterly being banned [and prohibited from further publication.]

 Short background on the “Chain Murders”

“Chain Murders” refers to a set of disappearances and extra-judicial killings of writers and political dissidents which occurred mainly 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 Chain 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. Mir Ala’i’s name has repeatedly been mentioned as a victim of “Chain Murders” in the print media, by human rights organizations, and by writers. Amnesty International’s February 1996 report makes mention of his death under suspicious circumstances. In his report of October 15, 1997, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Maurice Copithorne, also makes reference to Mr. Mir Ala’i’s suspicious murder, quoting from an interview with [author] Hushang Golshiri.

Newspapers such as Khordad (December 24, 1998), Sobhe Emrooz (September 19, 1999), and Payam e Hajar  (Vol. 307) considered Mr. Mir Ala’i as one of the tens of victims of Chain Murders. Also, in January 2000, the United Nations Special Rapporteur called on the Islamic Republic authorities to investigate the murders of more than fifty political dissidents: The authorities were asked to consider “a much wider scenario … one that involved 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 October 24, 1995, Mr. Ahmad Mir Ala’i left his house at 8 o’clock in the morning to go to his bookstore. He never arrived there, nor did he ever return home. Contrary to his usual practice of making a phone call to announce his change of plans if he intended not return home for lunch, he didn’t call home that day. Worried, his family and friends began to look for him. Around 10 PM, the police informed his family that Mr. Mir Ala’i’s body had been found in one of the alleyways close to his place of work in Esfahan, in a seated position, leaning against the wall (Payam e Hajar , weekly magazine, Vol. 307) A half empty bottle of an alcoholic beverage had been placed next to his body. His family saw his body that same night at the Medical Examiner’s Office and noticed 2 needle marks on his right hand. (ABF interview)

Officials’ Reaction

The authorities never openly and officially accepted responsibility for Mr. Mir Ala’i’s murder. According to the Medical Examiner’s Office, the cause of death was a heart attack and the time of death between 1 and 4 o’clock in the afternoon. No explanation was given as to the effect of the substance that was injected in his hand. In a meeting with a Human Rights Watch researcher on January 15, 1996, Ayatollah Taheri, Esfahan Friday Prayer leader, stressed that Mr. Mir Ala’i had died at the hospital. (March 1996 Report) Not convinced by the evidence the authorities presented to them, Mr. Mir Ala’i’s family initiated a lawsuit in the Esfahan Judiciary, [Tribunal] Branch 6. In a letter to to then-President Mohammad Khatami, his daughter states that “apparently there was an order that the case be closed.” (Payam e Hajar, Vol. 307) The calls for an investigation by his family and his friends at the Iran Writers Association led to increased pressure exerted on them. According to family members, Mir Ala’i’s books that were under publication were banned after the murder, and were not authorized to be published for years.

Mir Ala’i’s friend and colleague, Hushang Golshiri, wrote to President Khatami to ask that an investigation [into the murder] be conducted but received no response. A few months later, in June 1996, in an interview with a German newspaper, Golshiri labeled Mr. Mir Ala’i’s murder an assassination [and stated]: “We writers live in terror and fear.” (ABF interview)

Subsequent to the murders of Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar in November 1998, Mohammad Mokhtari, and Mohammad Ja’far Puyandeh, the “Chain Murders” [criminal] case was [officially] opened. However, a request sent by Mr. Mir Ala’i’s daughter, Shirin Mir Ala’i, to the President asking for his murder to be investigated [within the framework of the Chain Murders] was ignored. (Payam e Hajar, Vol. 307)

The Family’s Statements

Mr. Mir Ala’i’s family, who had sought justice within the framework of the Islamic Republic, believes that they have been denied justice. After four years of silence, they began, through open letters and interviews with the print media, to openly call the public’s attention to fundamental contradictions in the officials’ statements, denial of access to evidence, and lack of judicial attention and investigation of the case, in spite of persistent follow ups.

According to his family, prior to his death, Mr. Mir Ala’i had felt for some time that his life was in danger. In an interview with Payam e Hajar [weekly], one family member tells of threats made against his life prior to his murder. After the murder of Sa’idi Sirjani, he had repeatedly received letters with the address “Behesht Zahra [cemetery], Lot X, Mersad**” containing Sa’idi Sirjani’s death and funeral notice. During that same period, he had told one of his father’s friends that he had received serious death threats. (Moaddab Mir Ala’i, Gardun in Exile, Germany, May-June 1999) Further, three days before his murder, a number of individuals had gone to his place of work (Zendeh Rud Bookstore) and had photographed him.

In her letter to President Khatami, written four years after her father’s murder, Mr. Mir Ala’i’s daughter revealed threats made by security officials against herself, her sisters, and her mother since their father’s murder. She also alluded to the injection of a substance [the signs of which were visible] on his hand, which had caused a heart attack:

“It is obvious that, given the circumstances, and due to constant, hidden threats made against my mother, my two sisters, and myself, we were truly frightened and were in fear for our lives. We therefore remained silent. I always wished, however, to someday avenge the murder of my father. When you announced your readiness to find the killers [at the time when] the “Chain Murders” [became public] a few years later, I thought numerous times that we should take action as well. I even wrote you a letter last year, which, for various reasons, people warned me against sending to you. But I think the time for being cautious is over.” (Find My Father’s Killer Too, Payam e Hajar, Vol. 307)


*Sources: Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation interview with a person close to Mr. Ahmad Mir Ala’i; Kelk magazine, November-December 1995]; Gardun Monthly, Vol. 1, November 22, 1990; Shirin Mir Ala’i’s letter to Mohammad Khatami, Payam e Hajar  weekly magazine, Vol. 307, February-March 2000; Hamshahri daily newspaper, Vol. 819;  interview with Ahmad Mir Ala’i, Gardun Monthly Vol. 60-61 (Vol. 8 and 9 in exile), Dorn, Germany, Spring 1999; Encyclopedia Iranica; Akhbar e Rooz Website;  “Ganj Nameh”, Hushang Golshiri, November 1995; Amnesty International’s February 1996 report; the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Maurice Copithorne’s report of October 15, 1997; and the United Nations Special Representative Report, dated January 18, 2000; New Yorker Magazine, 26 May, 1997; “Yas o Das, Twenty Years of Intellectualism and the Security Apparatus”, Faraj Sarkuhi, Baran Publishing, Sweden, 2001, p. 110; bisheh.com

 **Mersad is the Islamic Republic’s deadly counter attack against the Mojahedin Khalq’s incursion into Iranian territory in late July 1988.

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