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

Mas'ud Molavi Vardanjani

About

Age: 33
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Presumed Muslim
Civil Status: Single

Case

Date of Killing: November 14, 2019
Location of Killing: Istanbul, Turkey
Mode of Killing: Extrajudicial Shooting
Charges: Unknown charge
Age at time of offense: 33

About this Case

Mr. Molavi, who worked with government and military institutions for about 10 years as a consultant or director of data security, immigrated to Turkey in the spring of 2018. He then used to disseminate information related to senior government officials and institutions, from the Leader to Ministers, through social media networks.

Information regarding the murder of Mr. Mas’ud Molavi Vardanjani was obtained from the Turkish Police website (March 2020) and the Turkish daily newspaper Sabah’s website (March 31, 2020). The news of this killing was also published on the Suzuko website (March 12, 2020). Additional information was obtained from an interview conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center with a journalist with knowledge of the case (April 3, 2020), IRNA News Agency (November 25, 2019), Twitter and the BBC Persian website (March 28, 2020), Reuters (March 27, 2020), Black Box Telegram Channel (from its start on July 20, 2018, to November 14, 2019), and other sources.*

Mr. Molavi, son of Kobra Karimi, was born on April 17, 1986, in [the town of] Najafabad in Esfahan [Province], and resided in Turkey starting in the spring of 2018. According to information attributed to Mr. Molavi published on LinkedIn, he held a master’s degree in civil engineering and computer science. He was data security manager in a Chinese communications company for a while, and during the same time period, was director of planning and development, as well as network security adviser, to the Iranian State Radio and Television (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, IRIB) for 3 years. He was subsequently deputy [director] of research and development for 5 years at the Support and Renovation of Iran’s Helicopters Company affiliated with the State Aerospace Industries Organization, and at the same time, was among the high-ranking directors of the Cyber Defense Command in the Armed Forces General Headquarters for 7 years. (LinkedIn, Suzuko). Iranian media have referred to Mr. Molavi as “the Islamic Azad University’s Head of Advanced Technologies Research Center Parseh” and “designer of Artificial Intelligence with a new three-dimensional algorithm”. The latter design can be used in drones and is connected to governmental and private institutions in Iran. Some sources have said that he had a degree in Artificial Intelligence. (Khorassan newspaper, Aftab Online, Software Students website, Suzuko, Kalemeh World Network, Club, Ahaber website). No independent information could be obtained from Parseh Research Center. According to information published by certain sources such as Kalemeh World Network, Mr. Molavi had worked with the Information Ministry’s Physical Protection General Administration as a colleague and technical adviser. In an undated conversation, Mr. Molavi stated that he had worked with a group who was in charge of “video control and protection of places such as Ayatollah Khamenei’s room in the Supreme Leader’s Beit (literally means “home” or “Residence” but it is a very large structure that contains the Leader’s Offices and administration, among others) and the Hosseinieh (a type of mosque dedicated to Hossein, the third Shiite Imam) inside the Beit. (Kalemeh World Network, Pastoo Khaneh YouTube Channel).

It is not clear why Mr. Molavi was living and residing in Turkey. The information that was published later, however, indicates that Mr. Molavi was looking to leave Turkey and immigrate to other countries, including the United States. In Turkey, Mr. Molavi ran a Telegram page and several other accounts in other social networks called Ja’beh-ye Siah (“the Black Box”).  The Black Box Telegram Channel which was updated daily until November 14, 2019, the day he was killed, published articles, news and documented pieces against government institutions and individuals, including the Supreme Leader’s Beit, the Judiciary Branch, the Information Ministry, the Communications Ministry and its then-Minister, and the Revolutionary Guards Corps of the Islamic Republic of Iran. (Poshte Pardeh (‘Behind the Scenes”) YouTube Channel, Black Box Telegram Channel, from May 4, 2018, to November 14, 2019, Ahaber Website, Twitter, BBC Persian).

A short time after the establishment of the Black Box Telegram Channel, numerous posts were shared on it in support of Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the former President of Iran. On August 7, 2018, the full text of Ahmadinejad’s proposals to the Iranian Leader for “fundamental reforms” were published on this Channel, and in the following days and weeks, it re-published videos of Ahmadinejad and people close to him that were critical of Ayatollah Khamenei. Additionally, there are pictures of Mr. Molavi meeting with Mr. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Rafsanjani on various social networks. (Khabarban, “Black Box” Telegram Channel).

This Channel gradually started directly criticizing the Leader of the Islamic republic, making claims that it was in possession of evidence and documentation regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear activities and regarding corruption in various organs including the Judiciary Branch and the Leader’s Beit. (“Black Box” Telegram Channel, January-February 2019).

The Black Box Telegram Channel also provided details about the security organs’ tracking methods and their techniques for kidnapping, assassination, murder, and theft outside Iran, particularly in Turkey, and claimed that Iran’s Information Ministry had “stolen” information from Turkey’s Immigration Administration regarding the people it had in mind [for those purposes]. (“Black Box” Telegram Channel, May-June and September-October  2019).

In his conversations, Mr. Molavi also revealed information about individuals close to Ayatollah Khamenei, the Information Ministry, and the Revolutionary Guards Corps regarding financial corruption and bypassing economic sanctions. By naming certain individuals such as Ayatollah Khamenei’s senior security and foreign policy advisers, he accused them of being involved in narcotics trafficking, financial corruption, and interference in internal policies. (Pastoo Khaneh YouTube Channel).

In an interview with Turkish media, Mr. Molavi’s mother, Ms. Kobra Karimi, alluded to her son’s arrest record and said that he had been jailed three times in 2009-2010, on the charge of “acting against national security”. (Ahaber Website).

Threats Made Against Mr. Molavi and His Death

According to available evidence and various published statements quoting Mr. Molavi and his mother, Ms. Karimi, Mr. Molavi had been threatened numerous times during his stay in Turkey. According to Mr. Molavi himself, he had attempted to flee to Greece illegally in 2018 because his “life was in danger”. He had stated in an audio file: “I would not have wanted to leave here if my life were not in danger. [The Iranian regime] can get to me in all of Europe. My case is such that they’re sparing no effort to either kill me or kidnap me. I am someone who is in possession of data [and information] that I brought out [of Iran when I left]: Videos, film footage, documents.” (Suzuko, Turkish Police’s report, Twitter, BBC Persian, Pastoo Khaneh YouTube Channel).

The “Black Box” Telegram Channel had published an audio file in January-February 2019 in which it claimed a security official had threatened the Channel’s administrators and had warned them against getting into entanglements with Iran’s Information Ministry. In this audio file, a voice says in a threatening manner: “Don’t make it so that we do something that would even scare ourselves when we later think about what we did to you. We can easily find you. You know very well what we do to traitors.” (“Black Box” Telegram Channel).

Ms. Karimi said in an interview: “My son has been threatened by a number of Iranians. He said that he had been really scared by these threats, and that the people who want to kill him are very serious.” According to Ms. Karimi, Mr. Molavi had informed his mother at 1 o’clock in the morning of November 14, 2019, of having been threatened again by an Iranian. In another interview, Ms. Karimi reported that Mr. Molavi had been threatened by a man and a woman. (Ahaber website, Pastoo Khaneh YouTube Channel).

While Mr. Molavi was killed with 11 bullets shot at him, none of them hit the person accompanying him.

Mr. Molavi was killed between 9:50 and 10 PM on the night of November 14, 2019, as he was walking with an individual named Ali Esfanjani on the sidewalk of Ajza Alley in Istanbul’s Shishli neighborhood. He was shot 11 times, at least one bullet hitting him in the heart. According to available information, including video footage of a closed circuit camera, the person accompanying Mr. Molavi was not shot. (Turkish Police website, Aparat website).

Quoting Turkey’s high-ranking officials, Reuters News Agency announced that “the order to kill Mas’ud Molavi” was issued by “Iran’s Consulate in Turkey”. (Reuters). According to statements by Turkish officials, five individuals, including the person who shot Mr. Molavi, named Abdolvahab Kuchak, were arrested on November 28, 2019. (Deutsche Welle, Ekhlas News Agency).

A journalist with knowledge of the case, who has conducted research regarding [extra-judicial] murders committed outside Iran, told the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center: “It appears that Mr. Esfanjani was someone trusted by Mr. Molavi and had been in contact with him for some time. The technique used in killing Mr. Molavi is the same as the one used in killing Mr. Sa’eed Karimian, the head of GEM Television Network (murdered on April 29, 2017, in Istanbul, Turkey), Mr. Mohammad Reza Kolahi Samadi, aka Ali Mo’tamad, the person accused of the bombing at Jomuri-e Eslami (“Islamic Republic”) Party Headquarters in June 1981 (murdered on December 15, 2015, in Almira, the Netherlands), and Ahmad Nissi, a leader of the “Al-Ahvaz Liberation Movement” (murdered on November 8, 2017, the Hague, the Netherlands). In all these cases, the Mafia was hired and these individuals were killed for money.” (Broumand Center interview).

The Turkish Police’s report also indicates that Mr. Molavi’s shooter, Mr. Abdolvahab Kuchak, had a criminal record in the Netherlands and had used a phone line that was issued by a Dutch communications [company], which had previously been used by his brother, Mr. Ali Kuchak, Mr. Karimian’s shooter. (Broumand Center interview, Turkish Police report).

According to the Turkish Police’s report, Mr. Molavi’s murder “was carried out by a well-organized 13-member team, 7 of whom were Iranian and 6 were Turkish nationals. Eight of these individuals, three of whom were Iranian nationals, were arrested”. This report named Mr. Esfanjani as the leader of the group. Mr. Kuchak, the shooter, was on the Interpol’s wanted list for narcotics crimes. The Police report in this case also refered to another individual named Mr. Naji Sharifi Zandashti who had assisted in procuring weapons and had helped Mr. Esfanjani leave Turkey after the murder. The report stated that Mr. Sharifi was connected to Iran’s Information Ministry and was accused of membership in a narcotics trafficking ring. (Turkish Police website).

In the morning of day of his death, Mr. Molavi told his mother was threatened to death by some Iranian individual/s.

According to this report, Mr. Esfanjani had met with Mr. Kuchak on the day prior to Mr. Molavi’s assassination. Furthermore, on the day of the murder, Mr. Esfanjani had gone to the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul from 10:10 AM until 10:40 AM. He had met with Mr. Kuchak again at 9 PM. According to available evidence, they had gone through the details of the murder plan. Investigations conducted by the Turkish Police indicated that the morning after the murder, an Iranian security agent had gone to the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul. That very afternoon, a fake identification document in the name of Abbas Faramarzi was issued by said Consulate and put at Mr. Esfanjani’s disposal at 8:25 PM on the night of November 15. He was taken to Iran on November 17 by a human trafficker. (Turkish Police website, Reuter, Sabah).

Mr. Molavi’s body was taken to Iran, some time (not known how long) after his death, in accordance with his wishes, expressed to his mother, and was buried in Esfahan, his birth place. (Ahaber website, Godar News, YouTube Channel).

The Iranian Authorities’ Reaction

Iranian authorities had a somewhat subdued and limited reaction to Mr. Molavi’s murder. One such official was Mr. Abbas Mussavi, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokesman, who, in late November 2019, stated this regarding Mr. Molavi’s murder: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is aware and is keeping an eye out for [the circumstances regarding] this person since he is an Iranian national, and we are waiting for the Turkish security organs’ report; I cannot comment, however, regarding the cause [of his death].” (IRNA).

In response to a Tweet by the American Secretary of State, Mr. Mike Pompeo, who had called Iranian diplomats “the operatives responsible for the assassination” of Iranian nationals in Turkey, on April 4, 2020, Mr. Mussavi accused the United States of engaging in “medical terrorism”. Reuters had previously reported that the United States had concluded that the Iranian Information Ministry had played a direct role in the assassination of Mr. Molavi in Turkey. (Mr. Mussavi’s Twitter account, Reuters).

The Family’s Reaction

Ms. Karimi, Mr. Molavi’s mother, stated in an interview that “the family has submitted the evidence and documentation related to our son’s murder to the police”. It was not clear what country’s police force these documents were submitted to. Nevertheless, his mother stated in the interview “I hope we find out [who did this] and that those who are responsible are exposed. I, for one, leave people to judge for themselves, because I know the people are smart enough and wise enough to be able to distinguish between right and wrong [and just and unjust].” (Pastoo Khaneh YouTube Channel).

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*Other sources: Aparat website (November 14, 2019); Poshte Pardeh YouTube Channel (November 30, 2019); Pastoo Khaneh YouTube Channel (October 12, 2020); Twitter account ascribed to Mas’ud Molavi (March 4, 2019, and June 10, 2019); Kalemeh World Network (March 18, 2020); LinkedIn Social Network [account] attributed to Mr. Mas’ud Molavi (no date); Reporters Without Borders (October 7, 2019); Khorassan daily newspaper (September 21, 2020); Aftab Online website (February 23, 2008); Club Social Network (date of last visit: June 16, 2020); Software Students’ weblog (February 3, 2009); Tabnak website (April 16, 2018); Young Journalists’ Club (August 11, 2018); Persian Deutsche Welle website (November 28, 2019); Khabarban (April 16, 2018); Ahaber Turkish website (May 12, 2020); Twitter account for Abbas Mussavi, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ then-Spokesman (April 4, 2020).

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