Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

https://www.iranrights.org
Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Mohammad Ebrahim Safizadeh

About

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

Case

Date of Killing: May 22, 2019
Location: Herat, Afghanistan
Mode of Killing: Mob killing/assassination
Age at time of offense: 64

About this Case

Mr. Safizadeh held a Master’s Degree in Arab Literature. He had a facility for establishing good relations with young people. He was an ethical, sociable, and athletic individual.

Information regarding the murder of Mr. Ebrahim Safizadeh was obtained from interviews conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation with Mr. Safizadeh’s son, Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, on June 12, 2019, January 31, 2020, and February 17, 2020. Additional information was obtained from Mr. Safizadeh’s weblog (April 6, June 3, September 1, and October 21, 2009, October 20, 2014), Fars News Agency (May 17, 2019), Tasnim News Agency (May 17, 2019), Afghan Voice Agency – AVA (May 22, 2019), Iran’s Sunni Adherents Front (Jabhe Sunnat) weblog (no date), Kalemeh TV World Network website (May 25, 2019), Kalemeh TV World Network YouTube Channel (May 25, and 28, 2019, June 1, 2019, and April 13, 2018), Mr. Safizadeh’s Medical Report (May 18, 2019), the U.N. High Commission for Refugees’ Letter (July 25, 2018), Mr. Safizadeh’s Letter to U.N. High Commission for Refugees (March 2019), and other sources [1].

Mr. Safizadeh was born on March 16, 1955, in the village of Fandokht located in Qa’en County in Southern Khorassan Province. He was married and had eight children, 2 girls and 6 boys. He was a Sunni Moslem and an adherent of the Hanafi religion. Mr. Safizadeh learned the basic principles of theology in Taibad, a border town located in Khorassan Razavi Province, and went to Pakistan in order to continue his education. He studied Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) and Hadith (a collection of traditions containing sayings of the Prophet Mohammad) at Karachi’s Dar-ol-Olum School. He went to Saudi Arabia in 1979-80, to continue his education. Mr. Safizadeh obtained a Master’s Degree in Arab Literature from King Saud University in Riyadh. He returned to Iran after five years. After serving his mandatory two-year military service, he started teaching theology at the Mazhar-Attohid Seminary in Taibad, not having been hired by the Ministry of Education. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019; Medical Document, May 18, 2019; Mr. Safizadeh’s weblog, March 7, 2009, and April 7, 2009).

Furthermore, between the years 1984 and 1989-90, Mr. Safizadeh was the Imam of the Amir Hamza Mosque in Taibad. He lectured at the Mosque and explained religious subject for the youth. According to people close to Mr. Safizadeh, he had a great facility in establishing close relations with young people. Additionally, Mr. Safizadeh met with large groups of people at his home on Thursday nights and discussed religious and historical subjects with them. Mr. Safizadeh was summoned several times by the Revolutionary Committees and was asked to reduce his contacts with the youth and not to hold meetings at his home. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019; Mr. Safizadeh’s weblog, April 7, 2009).

Mr. Safizadeh’s son, Mr. Khaled Safizadeh described his father as an upright, ethical, and sociable person who was close the youth. According to him, Mr. Safizadeh liked sports, especially mountain climbing. (Kalemeh TV World Network YouTube Channel, May 25, 2019).

Mr. Safizadeh was among the founders of the “Sunni Religious Leaders Coordination Council of Khorassan”. The Council’s first meeting was convened in June 1989. The Council was created when a number of Khorassan Province’s Sunni clergymen concluded [that it was necessary] in order to “advance religious affairs”. The Council’s objective was also to ensure Sunni clergymen’s independence in the face of influence [and intervention] by government entities including “The Province of Khorassan’s Office of the Supreme Leader’s Representative in Sunni Affairs”. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019; Mr. Safizadeh’s weblog, April 7, 2009).

Mr. Safizadeh was also the spokesperson and the director of an entity called “Iran’s Sunni Adherents’ Front” (“Jabhe Sunnat”). “Iran’s Sunni Adherents’ Front” began its activities in 2017. Among the objectives of this entity are “activities geared toward creating unity and cohesion among adherents of the Sunni faith”, “defending the rights of adherents of the Sunni faith”, “defending the religious sanctities and beliefs of adherents of the Sunni faith”, and “empathizing and lending a voice to oppressed families”. Iran’s Sunni Adherents’ Front dismisses the separation of religion and politics and insists on the necessity of Sunni Moslems to enter the political realm. Politically speaking, the Front seeks “a federal democratic system for the future of Iran”. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019, and January 31, 2020; Iran’s Sunni Adherents’ Front weblog; Kordpa, May 23, 2019, Nur Network You Tube Channel, April 13, 2018).

Mr. Fardin Bassami, Iran’s Sunni Adherents’ Front’s spokesperson stated the following regarding the objectives of the Front: “We want the Front to be a home for all Iranian Sunnis; they want their dignity back and want to have the same rights as a first class free citizen as other people do in other parts of Iran.” (Nur Network You Tube Channel, April 13, 2018).

After his release from prison, Mr. Safizadeh had specific critiques of the “System of the Guardianship of the Religious Scholar” in his writings, lectures, and interviews, and believed that the System of the Guardianship of the Religious Scholar is founded on “oppression and corruption”. He considered himself to be a “militant clergymen” and believed that clerics can fulfill their “religious and national duties” within the framework of the councils and “lay the groundwork for coordination and unity among Sunni adherents across Iran”. (Mr. Safizadeh’s weblog, April 7, 2009; Vessal-e Haq YouTube Channel, March 16, 2013).

Regarding Sunni adherents’ citizens’ rights, Mr. Safizadeh had stressed: “Whether Baluch, Kord, Lor, Turkmen, Arab, Fars, Turk, etc., we are all Iranians and must all enjoy citizens’ rights. We must have the right to elect and be elected, and we must have the right to freedom of opinion and speech.” He has further stated: “[Through its actions, the Islamic Republic has shown that] it cares nothing for us, does not consider us worthy of any rights, and that it will never willingly give us our citizens’ rights. So we must take our rights and we must rise up in order to get them. (Mr. Safizadeh’s weblog, October 20, 2014).

Prison and Voluntary Exile

On October 3, 1989, a short while after the establishment of the Sunni Religious Leaders Coordination Council of Khorassan, Mr. Safizadeh was arrested in the courtyard of the seminary by the Revolutionary Committee guardsmen under the pretext of having burnt religious papers. He spent 3 months at the [city of] Mashhad’s Information Administration detention center where he was interrogated for his religious beliefs and his social and political activities. After Mr. Safizadeh’s arrest, the city of Taibad Revolutionary Committee published a letter that stated he was “an anti-revolutionary and Mofsed fel-Arz (“one who spreads corruption on Earth”)”. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019; Mr. Safizadeh’s weblog, April 7, 2009; Vessal-e Haq YouTube Channel, March 16, 2013).

During detention and incarceration, Mr. Safizadeh was under tremendous psychological and physical pressure to renounce his beliefs, including beatings and torture, such as being hanged by his beard from the fan. He was also humiliated for his religious beliefs. For instance, when prison guards wanted to take him and other Sunni prisoners to the interrogation room as they were blindfolded, they would take them by the sleeve instead of by the hand, or make use of something else such as a folded newspaper [so that they wouldn’t touch them, as they were considered to be filthy]. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019; Mr. Safizadeh’s weblog, April 7, 2009; Vessal-e Haq YouTube Channel, March 16, 2013).

Mr. Safizadeh’s family had no news of him during his detention, and later, they always had problems to go for visitation. At times, prison officials would not allow visitations by his family without any valid reasons. Furthermore, when Mr. Safizadeh was in prison, one of his brothers named Kheirollah was executed after 10 months in prison and Mr. Safizadeh was not allowed to attend services held for him. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019; Mr. Safizadeh’s weblog, April 7, 2009).

On December 28, 1989, Mashhad Special Tribunal for the Clergy sentenced Mr. Safizadeh to five years in prison and 74 lashes on the charge “acting on behalf of the Wahabi Sect and insulting and demeaning [Islamic] sanctities”. Mr. Safizadeh’s flogging sentence was carried out in public at the town of Taibad’s Vahdat Square. At trial, and after his release from prison, Mr. Safizadeh repeatedly denied the charge of belief in Wahabism. He cited the burning of religious texts as a pretext to arrest him and stated that the real reason for his conviction was the establishment of the Sunni Religious Leaders Coordination Council. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019; Mr. Safizadeh’s weblog, September 1, 2009).

After the Special Tribunal for the Clergy issued its ruling, Mr. Safizadeh was transferred to Mashhad’s Vakilabad Prison on January 27, 1990, to serve his time, and spent three years and seven months in prison. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019; Mr. Safizadeh’s weblog, September 1, and October 21, 2009).

Local authorities continued to exert pressure on Mr. Safizadeh after his release. According to Mr. Safizadeh’s son, he was only able to be active at the Mosque and teach for one year. Thereafter, he had to report to the Special Tribunal for the Clergy in the town of Taibad every month. At his last meeting with the Assistant Prosecutor for the Special Tribunal for the Clergy, he was told that he was prohibited from teaching and acting as Imam and must stay home. According to Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, Mr. Safizadeh’s son, the Special Tribunal for the Clergy defrocked him at that meeting. Because of these pressures, Mr. Safizadeh left Iran in 1996 and took up residence with his family in the city of Harat in Afghanistan. According to Mr. Safizadeh’s son, because of Iran’s presence and influence in the region, Mr. Safizadeh was banned from teaching in Harat as well. He was working for several private companies at the time, including a transportation company in northern Afghanistan. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019; Iran International, June 9, 2019).

Threats, and the Murder of Mr. Safizadeh

According to available information, at one thirty in the afternoon of Friday, May 17, 2019, Mr. Safizadeh was shot by four unknown men at the Baq Morad neighborhood, Harat Municipality District One, near the Masjed Jame Sefid Mosque. The killers fled the scene on motorcycle and by car. Mr. Safizadeh’s son, who was inside the Mosque at the time of the assassination, stated: “My father was with my brother but then they were separated and there was a short distance between them. One individual got out of a car near the Mosque and shot my father from behind. The first shot hit his liver from behind. My father took a few steps to take cover when the second shot hit him in the face. Then they fired a third shot aiming for his heart, but hit him in the right shoulder.” According to Mr. Safizadeh, this incident happened at a time when government agents were in the vicinity because of the Harat Governor’s presence at the Mosque. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019 and February 17, 2020; Tasnim News Agency, May 18, 2019; Fars News Agency, May 17, 2019).

Mr. Safizadeh was taken to the Hozavi Hospital in Harat. In a report issued on May 19, 2019, hospital officials declared his condition as critical and suggested that he be taken outside Afghanistan for treatment. In conversations with the media, hospital officials emphasized that there was nothing that prohibited Mr. Safizadeh from being taken out of Afghanistan. At 7:30 in the morning of Wednesday, May 22, 2019, Mr. Safizadeh had a second heart attack due to the extent of his injuries and died at the hospital. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019; Medical Certificate, May 18, 2019; AVA News Agency, May 22, 2019).

Three months prior to his assassination, Mr. Safizadeh had written a letter to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees in which he had warned them: “If anything happens to me or to any member of my family, I will hold you responsible.”

Mr. Safizadeh had received numerous threating messages from Iranian officials during the time he resided in Harat. Members of his family in Iran had been summoned several times and asked to encourage Mr. Safizadeh to return to Iran. In a letter to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Afghanistan dated March 2019, Mr. Safizadeh had explained these threats as follows: “Eight years ago, an Information [Ministry] operative asked me on two occasions to return to Iran or at least meet with them somewhere. Two years ago, the head of the Southern Khorassan Province Information told my uncle and my mother ‘return Molavi; otherwise don’t complain if he gets killed or something happens to him or to his family members’.” In that same letter, Mr. Safizadeh had noted that on another occasion in May 2016, several individuals had wanted to assassinate him at the Mosque but he had not been there on that specific day. (Mr. Safizadeh’s letter, February-March 2019; Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019).

Furthermore, one of Mr. Safizadeh’s daughters, her spouse, and child disappeared around 2007, a short time after they visited her family in Harat, Afhanistan, and returned to Iran. Mr. Safizadeh’s family’s subsequent efforts in following up the case with judicial and police organs bore no fruit; they believe the Information Ministry was involved and their objective was to threaten Mr. Safizadeh. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019).

Afghanistan’s security officials warned Mr. Safizadeh’s family numerous times that his life was in danger. They had therefore been forced to move their home several times. In his letter to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Mr. Safizadeh had stated: “In January 2017, Afghan security operatives told me that my life was in danger and that I should move.” Mr. Safizadeh had therefore “not left his home for three months, and each time he did, he was accompanied by one or more members of his family”. In this letter, written three months before his assassination, he alluded to his previous correspondence with the U. N. High Commission for Refugees’ officials and warned them: “If anything happens to me or to any member of my family, I will hold you responsible.” (Mr. Safizadeh’s letter, February-March 2019; Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019).

On July 5, 2018, the U.N. High Commission for Refugees had granted refugee status to Mr. Safizadeh. (The U.N. High Commission for Refugees’ letter, July 5, 2018).

Officials’ Reaction

Iranian authorities have not taken an official position in Mr. Safizadeh’s assassination. Nevertheless, news of his assassination was published in semi-official websites in Iran such as Fars News Agency and Tasnim News Agency. Certain sources, including those affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, have named ISIS as the group responsible for Mr. Safizadeh’s assassination. (Tasnim, May 18, 2019; ABNA News Agency, May 18, 2019). These sources have published a screenshot of a Telegram Channel attributed to ISIS, which reports the murder of a cleric on May 18, 2019 in the Baq Morad neighborhood by members of ISIS. This Telegram page no longer exists but according to a BBC report, it was a Telegram page created by ISIS. (BBC Monitoring, December 3, 2018).

The Harat Police spokesperson confirmed Mr. Safizadeh’s assassination but did not issue an opinion on who was responsible. The Harat Governor’s spokesperson confirmed the murder and stated that Mr. Safizadeh’s killers had fled the scene. (Al-Arabiya Persian, May 17, 2019; ABNA News Agency, May 18, 2019).

Afghan officials have never provided a clear answer to Mr. Safizadeh’s family regarding his assassination. Although in the course of their follow-ups, the family has gotten wind of the existence of “certain documents regarding the case”, they have never been able to access the details of the murder. Afghan officials further told his family that three individuals who were involved in Mr. Safizadeh’s assassination were identified but all three had died in car accident(s). According to Mr. Safizadeh’s son, Afghan officials closed his file without any prosecution and without providing any answers to his family. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019).

Certain media, quoting Sunni activists, declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps as the entity responsible for the assassination. (Al-Arabiya Persian, May 17, 2019).

Familys’ Reaction

After Mr. Safizadeh’s murder, his family immediately asked Afghanistan’s security and police officials to review the video footage from cameras available at the scene of the crime and identify the gunmen. Mr. Safizadeh’s family also asked Afghanistan’s authorities numerous times to keep them informed of the developments in the case. Their judicial follow-ups never resulted in anything. Mr. Safizadeh’s family believes, based on evidence, including previous threats made against them, that through its extra-territorial forces, including the Quds Force and persons affiliated with them in Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran planned and executed Mr. Safizadeh’s assassination. Mr. Safizadeh’s son has also stated that he and other members of his family had been threatened several times after Mr. Safizadeh’s murder, including on the internet, and told not to name Iran as the one responsible for the murder. Having himself been threatened by an unknown individual at Mr. Safizadeh’s burial not to talk about the connection between the killer and Iran’s security forces, he believes these threats are made by the Revolutionary Guards or Iran’s security apparatus. (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019).

Impacts on Family

Regarding the impact of his father’s assassination, Khaled Safizadeh, one of Mr. Safizadeh’s sons stated: “It was a great shock, we still cannot believe it. Personally, I became very distraught and developed a nervous tick. Same with my younger twin brothers who are ten years old. We have all pretty much stayed home, and a very strange fear has taken us over, fear of my father’s murder, fear that something else might happen to one of us. It is very hard to lose your father here; we were alone and by ourselves here and did not have any relatives. We are even more alone now.” (Interview with Mr. Khaled Safizadeh, June 12, 2019).

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[1]Other sources: Iran International (June 9, 2019); Iran Wire (May 19, 2019); Vessal-e Haq YouTube Channel (March 17, 2013); Iran National Front Organizations Abroad website (May 27, 2019); Council of Iranian Democrats Facebook page (May 27, 2019); Mowlavi YouTube hannel (March 17, 2013); Kurdistan News Agency – Kordpa (May 23, 2019); Ahl-e Beyt News Agency – ABNA (May 18, 2019); and BBC Monitoring website (December 3, 2018).

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