Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

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

Musa Babakhani


Age: 40
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam
Civil Status: Single


Date of Killing: August 7, 2021
Location of Killing: Guli Suleimani Hotel - Sheikh Mahmud Sq., Erbil, Iraq
Mode of Killing: Extrajudicial killing
Age at time of alleged offense: 40

About this Case

Mr. Babakhani was only 18 years old when he joined the Party and was active in sections such as “the Party’s security, organization, and propaganda” sections for over two decades. He was elected member of the Party’s Central Committee in the course of the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s 17thCongress.

Information regarding the extrajudicial killing of Mr. Mussa Babakhani was obtained through an interview conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center with a person close to him (October 6, 2021), a person with knowledge of the case (November 17, 2021 - August 12, 2022), and an official of the Democratic Party (February 4, 2021). Additional information was obtained from the Kurdistan u Kurd, Kurdistan Democratic Party’s official website (February 16, 2016; September 8, 2018; August 7, 8, and 11, 2021), Kurdistan Democratic Party’s By-laws (approved at the 16thCongress in February 2016), Fars News Agency (August 8, 2021), Mashreq News website (August 8, 2021), Harim News (August 15, 2021), Deutsche Welle (July 22, 2018; July 10, 2019), Reuters (July 21, 2018), ISNA News Agency (September 14, 2018), Radio Farda (August 16, 2021), and Giarang (January 3, 2019).

Mr. Babakhani was born in 1979-80 in the Kulan village located in the city of Kermanshah’s Dulevar Region. He finished middle school in that same region and subsequently went to high school in Kamyaran County where he obtained his high school diploma. Mr. Babakhani joined the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan immediately after finishing his studies in the spring of 1998. (ABC Interview, October 6, 2021). Mr. Babakhani was born in a Shia' family and had no interest in religion during his childhood and adolescence. He later changed his religion and converted to Yarsan*. (ABC interview August 12, 2022)

He was only 19 years old when he joined the Party and was active in sections such as “the Party’s security, organization, and propaganda” sections for over two decades. He was elected member of the Party’s Central Committee in the course of the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s 17thCongress. (Kurdistan u Kurd, August 8, 2021).

Mr. Babakhani left the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) during its split in 2006 and joined the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK). He was active in the Kurdistan Democratic Party for 23 years. (ABC Interview, October 6, 2021).

Mr. Babakhani has been described by people close to him as “a sociable, honest, empathetic, and loyal” person. According to them, he was introduced to the Kurdish problem when he was still in school, and had engaged in [political] activities with some of his classmates in that same period. He and his friends joined the Democratic Party as a group. (ABC Interview, October 6, 2021). According to the Democratic Party, Mr. Babakhani “put all his efforts into disseminating the Democratic Party’s goals and policies, and mobilizing the people around the Party’s objectives, especially in the Kermanshah region”. (Kurdistan u Kurd, August 8, 2021)

The Kurdish Problem in the Islamic Republic

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the disagreements between the government of the Shiite Islamic Republic and the organizations in the Kurdish regions of western Iran regarding the rights and roles of minorities in drafting the Constitution; whether the government should be secular or religious, and especially the issue of Kurdish autonomy; and conflicts that resulted in Kurdish political organizations boycotting the April 1979 Referendum on instituting an Islamic Republic; led to serious, and at times armed, clashes between the central government and the Peshmerga (Kurdistan Democratic Party’s armed forces).

On August 19, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini labeled the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), the oldest and most influential Kurdish Party, “the Party of the Devil”, and declared it “unofficial and illegal”, and ordered a military attack on Kurdistan. Mass executions and intense armed clashes continued in the region for months, clashes that resulted in the deaths of a number of civilians and the displacement and relocation of the residents of certain towns. In the next four years, Kurdish parties lost their grip on power in the region to a great extent, and relocated to Iraqi Kurdistan. Since then, a number of their leaders and members have been assassinated outside Iran, especially in Iraqi Kurdistan.

In the years since the Islamic Republic has been in existence, in addition to such entities as the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, Komala (Revolutionary Organization of the Toilers of Iranian Kurdistan), the Koran School led by Ahmad Moftizadeh, Organization of Iranian Kurdistan Struggle (which was active in the early years of the Revolution), certain other Kurdish opposition parties were established outside Iran, such as the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) and the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK). These parties, with policies and ideologies that are not necessarily similar and uniform, have settled in parts of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region in Iraq, such as Koy, Soleimanieh, and in the foothills of Qandil mountains. Some of these parties have undergone splits in recent years. These conflicts have been more about the methods of running the organizations rather than theoretical and ideological differences. These parties have not controlled any part of the Iranian territory since the late 1980’s, and have adopted different strategies in different periods in order to confront the Islamic Republic, advance their political objectives, and recruit members.

Beginning in 2006, the conflicts between the regime and Kurdish parties – who had increased their presence in Iran in reaction to the government intensifying the detention and execution of Kurdish activists and the spread of fundamentalist beliefs in Kurdish regions – entered a new and more serious phase. Kurdish forces, especially the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan and the PJAK, were attacked several times inside Iran and in Iraqi Kurdistan border regions by border patrol forces and the revolutionary Guards. That same year, Revolutionary Guards conducted armed attacks against the positions of Iranian Kurdish parties inside the borders of the Kurdish Autonomous Region in Iraq. The bombing of the Night of Yalda ceremonies (an ancient celebration of the longest night of the year) in 2006, which was also Abdorrahman Qassemlu’s birthday, resulted in the death of five Party members and 2 members of the Iraqi Kurdistan security forces. Kurdish forces also attacked Islamic Republic forces on several occasions. At least dozens were killed on each side in these military clashes.**

In subsequent years, particularly in 2017 and 2018, the clashes continued with less frequency and intensity. The most important of these clashes was the attack by PJAK forces on a border post on July 21, 2018, which resulted in 11 deaths. (Deutsche Welle, July 22, 2018; Reuters, July 21, 2018). On September 8 of that same year, the seat of the Kurdistan Democratic Party – a party that opposed armed struggle and had not participated in the clashes with the Islamic Republic forces – located in Koy in Iraqi Kurdistan, was the target of a rocket attack by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards in which 16 people were killed and 50 injured. (ISNA News Agency, September 14, 2018; Kurdistan u Kurd website (September 8, 2018).

Background on the Formation of the Kurdistan Democratic Party

Following internal conflicts within the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan – established in 1945 with the aim of autonomy for Kurdistan in northwestern Iran – the Party went through a shakeup in 2006 and was split into two separate organizations, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK). The PDK seeks “the establishment of a Kurdistan Republic within the framework of a federal Iran”. (Charter of the PDK, passed in its 16thCongress in February 2016). This party has not ruled out armed struggle; it has, however, prioritized political struggle and the expression of the people of Kurdistan’s demands through elections and other civil activities within the framework of existing domestic laws in order to achieve their goals. (The official website of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Kurdistan u Kurd, February 16, 2016).

The PDK has demanded the implementation of, and even negotiation over, Principles 15*** and 19**** of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic that deals with the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. In 2016-17, Party officials met with Iran’s National Security High Council officials in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. On February 15, 2016, in the Concluding Declaration of its 16thCongress, the Party emphasized “rendering the struggle and the activities more robust, both inside and outside the country, and strengthening the nationalist discourse as well as the spirit of unity and solidarity in Iranian Kurdistan in all areas and contexts” through “utilization of all means and methods of struggle for the purpose of universalizing the nationalist discourse in Iranian Kurdistan, relying on unity and solidarity”. (Boroumand Center interview, February 4, 2021; Giarang, January 3, 2019; Deutsche Welle, July 10, 2019; the official website of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Kurdistan u Kurd, February 16, 2016).

Mr. Babakhani has been described by people close to him as “a sociable, honest, empathetic, and loyal” person. According to them, he was introduced to the Kurdish problem when he was still in school, and had engaged in [political] activities with some of his classmates in that same period.

Threats Made Against Mr. Babakhani, and His Death

According to the Democratic Party, Mr. Mussa Babakhani was kidnapped on August 5, 2021, and “his lifeless body” was discovered two days later in the morning of August 7, in a room at the city of Irbil’s Guli Suleimani Hotel. (Kurdistan u Kurd, August 7, 2021).

According to the Democratic Party’s communique, “extensive signs of torture” were visible on the body. (Kurdistan u Kurd, August 7, 2021).

A source with knowledge of the case stated: “Based on the information recorded on the hotel camera, Mr. Babakhani was shot once in the mouth and killed where he was sleeping. The bullet exited the left cheek and there were signs of injury to the left ear and eye. The bruised state of the body was not due to torture, however, but due to the fact that his body had stayed in the hotel room for two days.” (ABC Interview, November 17, 2021).

According to people close to Mr. Babakhani, his body was kept at the Coroner’s Office for 3 to 4 days (ABC Interview, October 6, 2021). The Coroner’s [death] certificate has not been published and it is not clear exactly how and with what weapon Mr. Babkhani has been killed. Mr. Babakhani had left his place of residence at the Democratic Party’s camp, located in the vicinity of the town of Kuy Sanjaq in Iraqi Kurdistan, the day before the murder and without a bodyguard, in order to attend a wedding and meet with a friend’s father. It is not clear when exactly he was killed but there is a two-day time span between the time he left the camp on August 5, until his body was discovered at the hotel. (ABC Interview, October 6, 2021).

Mr. Babakhani had been threatened numerous times prior to his assassination. A few months before the murder, he had told people close to him that he had been threatened and that “they wanted to assassinate him”. He had even purchased “a transportable weapon like a Kalashnikov rifle or an Uzi” for his protection, in spite of owning a handgun. He had expressed a hatred for the situation he was in a few months prior to his assassination, and had stated that he had locked himself in his home for months and moved around with extreme caution. The source has no knowledge of the origin of the threats but stated: “He was politically active in the lower region [Iranian Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and Ilam]; that was why the government was opposed to him.” (ABC Interview, October 6, 2021).

According to people close to Mr. Babakhani, “Mussa Babakhani’s tangible and effective activities (especially in the Kermanshah region) had made him a target of the Islamic Republic’s security and terrorist apparatus.” (Kurdistan u Kurd, August 8, 2021).

Several Kurdistan human rights organizations such as Kurdistan Human Rights Network and the Henegaw human rights organization stated in a joint communique that “Mr. Mussa Babakhani’s assassination was carried out by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s intelligence and security apparatus. (Kurdistan u Kurd, August 11, 2021).

The Party’s Reaction

In its initial reaction to Mr. Babakhani’s murder, the Democratic Party laid the responsibility on “two of the Islamic Republic’s terrorists in the city of Irbil”. (Kurdistan u Kurd, August 7, 2021). A day after Mr. Babakhani’s murder was announced, the Democratic Party issued a communique in which it called this member of its leadership “a prominent and distinguished cadre” whose demise had inflicted “great damage” to the Party. The communique further stated that, “while [the Democratic Party] appreciates and values the efforts of the Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region’s relevant institutions in pursuing and investigating this matter, it expects that the perpetrators of this terrorist act be identified and turned over to the hands of justice, at the same time as investigations are being conducted into the people behind this assassination.” (Kurdistan u Kurd, August 8, 2021).

According to a source with knowledge of the case, the Party simultaneously brought lawsuits against several individuals who had been implicated in the case as defendants. The case is in the investigations stage at a criminal court in the city of Irbil. (ABC Interview, November 17, 2021).

Iraqi Kurdistan Officials’ Reaction

After Mr. Babakhani’s murder, Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region’s Security Administration issued a communique in which it announced that it had issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Sarmad Davud Abdali, known as Saman Ilami, as Defendant Number One in this case, in spite of the fact that said defendant had returned to Iran. According to this communique, Saman Ilami had been staying at the city of Irbil’s Guli Suleimani Hotel for the previous year and two months under the guise of conducting trade activities. (Herim news, August 15, 2021; Boroumand Center video archives).

In the video and communique issued subsequent to Mr. Babakhani’s death, the Irbil Security Administration announced that the primary defendant in the case, an individual named Sarmad Davud Abdali, known as Saman Ilami, picked up Mr. Babakhani in a taxi on August 5, and together they went to the city of Irbil and the hotel where said primary defendant was staying. Based on the videos and other evidence published by the Security Administration, the primary defendant entered the hotel at 10 PM accompanied by Mr. Babakhani, and they both left the hotel again together a few minutes later. They returned to the hotel after taking a stroll. The primary defendant exited the hotel alone at 3 o’clock in the morning of August 6, and left Irbil for the town of Khaneghein in a taxi that had been called previously. In its communique, the Irbil Security Administration announced that the primary defendant had returned to Iran from Khaneghein. According to this communique, “the defendant and the murder victim (Mussa Babakhani) were friends and were constantly together, and they had warm relations”. According to this communique, investigations and the gathering of evidence in the case began after news of Mr. Babakhani’s murder was published on August 7. This communique, which was published along with a video montage of Mr. Babakhani leaving the Party Headquarters and goes up to the point of the primary suspect exiting the scene of the crime, assured the people of Irbil that their safety was secured and that the public would be apprised of the developments in the case. In the final minutes of the video, a picture of the first page of Mr. Sarmad Nazerfard’s duplicate Identity Booklet is shown, indicating that he was born in 1974-75 in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. In that same video, two taxi drivers from the Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region, who had taken the primary defendant from Irbil to Khaneghein on the night of the murder, stated that they had taken him to Khaneghein at 3 o’clock in the morning following a call for a cab by Mr. Babakhani. According to the driver who took Sarmad Nazerfard, he was having phone conversations on the way in Farsi and Arabic. (Herim News, August 15, 2021; Boroumand Center video archives). 

Iranian Officials’ Reaction

Iranian government authorities did not officially react to Mr. Babakhami’s murder; semi-official media, however, such as Fars News Agency called his the killing of “the leader of a terrorist grouplet”. (Fars News Agency, August 8, 2021). Mashreq News website called Mr. Babakhani’s death “the suspicious death of the Democratic grouplet”. (Mashreq News website, August 8, 2021).

A short time after Mr. Babakhani’s murder, Arsalan Yarahmadi, journalist and editor-in-chief of the Henegaw human rights website who resides in Iraqi Kurdistan, stated that Iran’s Information Ministry agents had interrogated his family regarding Mr. Babakhani’s murder and had “threatened to kill him”. He said that Iran’s security agents had contacted him by phone and had told him that he must report in the Henegaw website that the killing of Mussa Babakhani had nothing to do with the Iranian government and that he had been killed in a “domestic dispute”. (Radio Farda, August 16, 2021). Meanwhile, The Democratic Party has stated that Mr. Babakhami was assassinated by “forces affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

Family’s Reaction

Mr. Babakhani’s family resides in Iranian Kurdistan. According to people close to them, they were not able to go to Iraqi Kurdistan and follow up on the case at the time of the murder, due to reasons which included closure of the border because of the spread of the Corona virus. (ABC Interview, October 6, 2021).

According to people close to them, Mr. Babakhani’s family has not yet lodged a complaint in the Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region’s courts but intend to do so in the future. In the months leading to the murder, they had learned through Mr. Babakhani that he had been threatened because of his activities in the Party and that he was in grave danger. (ABC Interview, October  6, 2021).

Impacts on Family

According to the available information.


*The Yari faith is the Yarsan people’s religion and is among creeds that are common among a certain section of the people of the Middle East, the majority of whom live in Iran. In the Islamic Republic parlance, this faith has been called in demeaning terms such as “Aliallahi”, “the Ahl-e Haq Cult”, and in certain instances “Devil worshippers”. The Yari creed is not officially recognized in the Iranian Constitution, and the Yarsan people have been subjected to severe oppression during the four decades of the Islamic Republic’s rule. Although the majority of the adherents of the Yari faith in Iran are also members of the Kurdish ethnic community and primarily live in regions in Kermanshah Province, they live in some of Iran’s Azeri regions as well. Purity, truth, inexistence (degenerating desires), and Reda (self-sacrificing and providing services to help human beings) are the four pillars of Ahl-e Haq, [another term to refer to the Yarsan]. “Kalam-e Saranjam” is their central holy book. “Jamkhaneh” is their place of worship and collective prayer, which, in most regions, is accompanied by the musical instrument Tanbur. In addition to having different religious rites, among other Yarsan fundamental beliefs that distinguishes them from the religious communities around them, is belief in “God’s spirit coming into man’s body in various periods and under particular circumstances, and also belief in resurrection and the circulation of man’s spirit in different bodies.” (Boroumand Center interview, May 6, 2021). Adherents of the Yari faith live in regions of Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Azarbaijan, Zanjan, Hamedan, and Lorestan Provinces. They have always suffered from some form or another of oppression, limitation, disrespect, and insult, in the Islamic Republic. According to documents published by Amnesty International, adherents of the Yari faith have been banned from building new Jamkhaneh’s under the pretext of being in contradiction to “Islam’s Shari’a and the law”. (Amnesty International). During the rule of the Islamic Republic, no new Jamkhaneh has been built in a town like Sahneh, a major hub of the Yarsan people. (Boroumand Center interview, May 5, 2021). In the summer of 2013, several members of the Yarsan community set themselves on fire in protest of these conditions. Yarsan people have engaged in peaceful assemblies on several occasions, including in front of the Iranian Majless (Parliament), protesting these policies. (BBC Persian, July 27, 2013; October 20, 2013). 
During the past forty years, Iranian officials in Kermanshah, which is among the main hubs where Yarsan people reside, have stated that their standard for determining their policies toward the Yarsan is the ideologies of Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei. (Mehr News Agency, February 16, 2015). The founder of the Islamic Republic’ opinions regarding the Yarsan, or the “Ahl-e Haq” as it is stated in Shiite authorities’ Fatwas (Decrees), is not fundamentally different than their opinions regarding non-Abrahamic religions. In response to a question concerning “eating” with adherents of the Yari faith and a “Kofr Decree” against them, [essentially making them infidels and subject to execution], Ayatollah Khamenei stated that these would be conditioned upon the Yarsan not denying “Tohid and Nabovvat” (Belief in unity and a single God, and in Moahmmad being the messenger of Allah) and other “requirements of the religion of Islam”. (Tabnak website, October 18, 2019 ). Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi stated this regarding marrying an adherent of Ahl-e Haq: “They deny Islam’s requirements; they do not believe in Namaz (5-time daily Islamic prayer) and fasting (during the month of Ramadan) and in anythin else. Marrying them is absolutely not permitted.” (Tabnak website, October 18, 2019). 
In a meeting with Ayatollah Khomeini, and later in a letter dated March 25, 1979, Seyed Nasreddin Heydari, one of the leaders of Yarsan asked the Ayatollah that “the religion of Ahl-e Haq” be recognized in the Constitution as a religious minority. He stressed the right to elect a representative to the National Consultative Assembly and local councils and “to have an effective vote in electing local officials”. 

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