Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

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

Abubakr Abbasnia


Age: 37
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Sunni)
Civil Status: Single


Date of Killing: December 20, 2016
Location of Killing: Koy-Sanjagk, Iraq
Mode of Killing: Bombing
Charges: Unknown charge

About this Case

Mr. Abbasnia's friends used to call him Arsalan because of his courage and boldness.

Information regarding the extrajudicial killing of Mr. Abubakr Abbasnia, also known as Arsalan, son of Mohammad and Khadijeh, was obtained from an interview conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center with one of his friends (March 7, 2021). News of this killing was also published on the official website of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Kurdistan u Kurd (December 22, 2016), and on the Raja News website (December 21, 2016). Additional information about this case was obtained through interviews conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center with Mr. Kamal Karimi, member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s political office February 5, 2021; December 22, 2021), with a person with knowledge of the case (February 19, 2021), the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s By-Laws ratified during the Party’s 16th Congress (January - February 2016), and other sources.*

Mr. Abbasnia was an ethnic Kurd, single, and born on March 20, 1979, in Mahabad [County’s] village of Uzuntash located in West Azarabaijan Province. He finished fifth grade in his village and subsequently migrated to the city of Mahabad with his family. He quit school in middle school for financial reasons and started to work as a street vendor and a construction worker. (Boroumand Center interview, March 7, 2021). On March 23, 2004, Mr. Abbasnia joined the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan. After the split in the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan in 2006, he joined the Kurdistan Democratic Party and was active in a number of the Party’s sections until December 20, 2016, including as a cameraman at the Kurd Television Network, the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s official TV station, and in the Party’s various security and protection divisions. He was the person in charge of security and protection for the Night of Yalda celebrations of 2016. (Boroumand Center interview, March 7, 2021).

According to a person close to him, Mr. Abbasnia was a kind, happy, sociable, and popular individual and had a nice singing voice. Some of his friends used to call him Arsalan because of his courage and boldness. He later changed his name to Arsalan. (Boroumand Center interview, March 7, 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).

Background of Extrajudicial Killings by the Islamic Republic of Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran has a long history of politically motivated violence in Iran and around the world. Since the 1979 Revolution, Islamic Republic operatives inside and outside the country have engaged in kidnapping, disappearing, and killing a large number of individuals whose activities they deemed undesirable. The actual number of the victims of extrajudicial killings inside Iran is not clear; however, these murders began in February 1979 and have continued since then, both inside and outside Iran. The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center has so far identified over 540 killings outside Iran attributed to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Dissidents have been assassinated by the agents of the Islamic Republic outside Iran in countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, India, and Pakistan in Asia; Dubai, Iraq, and Turkey in the Middle East; Cyprus, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Great Britain in Europe; and the United States across the Atlantic Ocean. In most cases there has not been much published and the local authorities have not issued arrest warrants. But documentation, evidence, and traces obtained through investigations conducted by local police and judicial authorities confirm, however, the theory of state committed crimes. In certain cases, these investigations have resulted in the expulsion or arrest of Iranian diplomats. In limited cases outside Iran, the perpetrators of these murders have been arrested and put on trial and the evidence presented, revealed the defendants’ connection to Iran’s government institutions, and an arrest warrant has been issued for Iran’s Minister of Information.

The manner in which these killings were organized and implemented in Iran and abroad, is indicative of a single pattern which, according to Roland Chatelin, the Swiss prosecutor, contains common parameters and detailed planning. It can be ascertained from the similarities between these murders in different countries that the Iranian government is the principal entity who ordered the implementation of these crimes. Iranian authorities have not officially accepted responsibility for these murders and have even attributed their commission to internal strife in opposition groups. Nevertheless, since the very inception of the Islamic Republic regime, the Islamic Republic officials have justified these crimes from an ideological and legal standpoint. In the spring of 1979, Sadeq Khalkhali, the first Chief Shari’a Judge of the Islamic Revolutionary Courts, officially announced the regime’s decision to implement extrajudicial executions, and justified the decision: “ … These people have been sentenced to death; from the Iranian people’s perspective, if someone wants to assassinate these individuals abroad, in any country, no government has any right to bring the perpetrator to trial as a terrorist, because such a person is the implementing agent of the sentence issued by the Islamic Revolutionary Court. Therefore, they are Mahduroddam and their sentence is death regardless of where they are.” More than 10 years after these proclamations, in a speech about the security forces’ success, Ali Fallahian, the regime’s Minister of Information stated the following regarding the elimination of members of the opposition: “ … We have had success in inflicting damage to many of these little groups outside the country and on our borders”

At the same time, various political, judicial, and security officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran have, at different times and occasions, confirmed the existence of a long term government policy for these extrajudicial killings and in some cases their implementation.***** 

Threats against and death of Mr. Abubakr Abbasnia

On December 20, 2016, during the Night of Yalda celebrations, Mr. Abubakr (Arsalan) Abbasnia was killed in an explosion at the Kurdistan Democratic Party Headquarters, known as Qala (Qal’eh), in the town of Koy Sanjaq, located in Iraq’s Erbil Province. (Boroumand Center interview, March 7, 2021; Raja News, December 21, 2016).

According to a person with knowledge of the case, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party who was between 25 and 30 years old, attempted to smuggle two bombs into the ceremonies but was not able to get them past the security personnel. He therefore took one of the bombs to a shop close to the venue, and placed the second bomb inside a trash bin 5 to 6 meters (approximately 6 yards) away from the shop. Said individual detonated the bomb inside the shop via remote control at the end of the ceremonies, as the participants were leaving; no one was hurt, however. Mr. Abbasnia, the people, and the Kurdistan Autonomous Region’s security forces proceeded to the location of the first explosion to ascertain what had happened when the second bomb was detonated remotely, and he was killed along with 6****** other people. (Boroumand Center interview, February 19, 2021).

According to the Kurdistan Democratic Party officials in interviews with the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, the Party’s investigations indicated that the bombs [and explosive materials] used in the attack were procured by the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force and put at the operative’s disposal. (Boroumand Center interview with Kamal Karimi, December 22, 2021). The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center is not in possession of the details of these investigations.

According to a person with knowledge of the case, after the explosions, the bomber entered the Iranian town of Sardasht through the Iran – Iraqi Kurdistan border at the town of Qaladzi and fled in a car that was waiting for him. (Boroumand Center interview, February 19, 2021; Boroumand Center interview with Kamal Karimi, December 22, 2021). The Kurdistan Democratic Party officials claimed that the car used to take the attacker away belonged to Iran’s Ministry of Information. (Boroumand Center interview with Kamal Karimi, December 22, 2021).

Mr. Abbasnia’s body was buried at the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s Martyrs Cemetery in the town of Koy, 500 meters (approximately 0.3 miles) from Qala (Qal’eh). Boroumand Center interview, January 14, 2022). 

The events that occurred after this bombing, including the rocket attack on the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan headquarters in the town of Koy in Iraqi Kurdistan in September 2018, is indicative of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s policy toward this Party and its other opponents, which is one of enmity and elimination.

Iranian Officials’ reaction

Islamic republic of Iran authorities did not officially react to this bombing and to the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s claim of Iran’s involvement. In September 2018, however, the Islamic Republic of Iran carried out a missile on the Party’s headquarters located in Iraqi Kurdistan and killed 16 Party members *******, including several members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s Central Committee.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party’s Reaction

According to Kamal Karimi, member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s political office, in an interview with the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, this Party has not conducted any military operations inside Iran since its split in 2006, and the dispatching of Peshmerga fighters to Iran was strictly for promotional purposes. (Boroumand Center interview, February 4, 2021). Hengaw Human Rights Organization – which records military activities conducted between Kurdish Parties and Iranian military forces – did not record any form of clashes between members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Islamic Republic’s military and security forces in its 2018 report (the period the report covered). Kurdistan u Kurd, the official website of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, reported the killing of two of its members in September 2016, who were in Iran in order to engage in “political activities” and had gotten caught in an “explosion trap”. (Kurdistan u Kurd website, September 7, 2021).

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (Kurdistan u Kurd, December 24, 2016) and the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (Kurdistan Media, December 21, 2016) reacted to the Night of Yalda celebrations explosion in separate statements. The Kurdistan Democratic Party’s political bureau condemned the bombing and asked political groups, as well as opposition and fighting individuals, international centers and institutions, and world public opinion to condemn the attack.

One year after the bombing, the Kurdistan Democratic Party issued a statement in which it accused the Iranian regime of being directly responsible for it. In its statement, the Party alluded to the Iranian regime’s involvement in the assassination of Kurdish leaders in Europe, the bombing of the Amia Jewish center in Argentina, and the chain murders in Iran, and stated: “Since the very first days of its inception, this regime has engaged in any and all forms of criminal activity in order to eliminate its political opponents. Furthermore, it has turned assassination into one of the principal means of eliminating its political opponents, and it has advanced [and implemented] its terrorist conspiracies across Iran, Iranian Kurdistan, and even outside the country, in an extremely organized and well-planned fashion; unfortunately, Kurdish political fighters constitute the majority of the victims of the Islamic Republic’s terrorist activities.” (Kurdistan u Kurd, December 26, 2017).

According to available information, the Kurdistan Democratic Party continued to conduct talks with the Islamic Republic even after the explosion. The Party, along with three other Kurdish political parties, were engaged in direct talks with the Islamic republic in July 2019 with a Norwegian non-governmental organization acting as mediator. However, as Kamal Karimi, member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s political office, stated in an interview with the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, these negotiations have stopped for now. (Deutsche Welle, July 10, 2019; Boroumand Center interview, February 4, 2021).

Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region’s Reaction

Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region’s officials, including the head of the Kurdistan Region, the Head of Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region, and the Iraqi President, issued statements condemning this bombing. (Rudaw website, December 21, 2016).

Family’s Reaction

After the explosion, the victims’ families, including Mr. Abbasnia’s family, lodged a complaint with the Kurdistan Autonomous Region’s Security Administration. The complaint was first heard at the Koy County judiciary and then at the city of Irbil Judiciary. On the court’s order, several people were arrested, including two members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and an individual from the town of Qaladzi. (Boroumand Center interview, February 19, 2021). According to the Kurdistan Democratic Party officials, the people who were arrested were the ones who had helped the bomber to flee. (Boroumand Center interview with Kamal Karimi, December 22, 2021).

According to the family of one of the victims of the Night of Yalda attack on members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, witnesses and several of the attorneys in the bombing case “received death threats and did not appear in court out of fear for their lives”. In his interview with the Boroumand Center, Mr. Karimi, the father of one of the victims of this bombing stated: “The judge said ‘I’m positive these two were involved in this incident but I do not have any witnesses. I’m a judge and I have to rule based on the evidence’.” The court acquitted the defendants in the case and they were all released after 7 months. The adjudication of the case took approximately one year and the case was ultimately closed. (Boroumand Center interview, February 19, 2021).

Impact on the Family

According to a person with knowledge of the case, Mr. Abbasnia’s killing “had a profound effect on his mother’s health, and his parents really got old. His father became ill and was never able to stand again. His mother cries for him every night and cries every time she watches television.” (Boroumand Center interview, March 7, 2021).

According to a person close to Mr. Abbasnia, Revolutionary Guards Information Administration forces threatened his family and told them that they were prohibited from distributing funeral pamphlets, having a gathering, and holding services for him either at home or at the mosque. In spite of the security forces’ pressure tactics and threats, however, a great number of people dressed in Kurdish traditional clothes participated in services held at Mr. Abbasnia’s father’s home. A few days after the services, Information Administration forces summoned his family once again and interrogated them. (Boroumand Center interview, March 7, 2021).


*Other sources include: Reuters News Agency (July 21, 2018); Deutsche Welle Persian (July 20, and 21, 2018); the official website of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Kurdistan u Kurd (February 16, 2016; September 7, 2016, and; December 24, 2016), ISNA news agency (September 10 & 14, 2018); Ara News (April 20, and September 25, 2016); Rudaw website (December 21, 2016).
**For instance, the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) Peshmerga’s attack on the soldiers’ parade on April 17, 2016 (Ara News, April 19, 2016); the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan’s attack in Oshnuyeh on June 15, 2016, that resulted in the death of 6 Islamic Revolutionary Guardsmen (Rudaw, June 16, 2016); the attack by the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan Peshmerga on a large Security location in the town of Piranshahr on September 24, 2016, following the arrest of dozens of Kurdish activists that resulted in more than 30 Islamic Revolutionary Guardsmen dead and dozens injured (Ara News, September 25, 2016); the attack by the “Eagles of Zagros” group in the town of Marivan in March 2017, that resulted in the death of at least two Islamic Revolutionary Guardsmen (Ara News, March 19, 2017).
*** Principle 15 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran: “The official language and script of Iran, the lingua franca of its people, is Persian. Official documents, correspondence, and texts, as well as text-books, must be in this language and script. However, the use of regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media, as well as for teaching of their literature in schools, is allowed in addition to Persian.”
**** Principle 19 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran:” All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; and color, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege.”
***** Read more about the background of extrajudicial killings in the Islamic Republic of Iran by clicking on the left-hand highlight with the same title.
****** Naser Karimi, Ali Esma’il Qavitasi, Vahhab Mirkhezri, Salar Bagheri, Adnan Abdullah, Sangar Sattar Khezr
******* Karim Mahdavi, Ebrahim Ebrahim, Kassrin Haddad, Rahman Piruti, Soheila Qaderi, Hashem Azizi, Osman Osmani, Karim Rassulzadeh (Mam Shirku), Haveri Karsaz (Haveri Sheikhani), Pishva Seyed Omar, Jamal Akbari, Mansur Akbaripur, Mohammad Hassanpur, Qader Ezzati, Faruq Hassan Khayat, and Mokhtar Qaderpur.

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