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

Hitoshi Igarashi


Age: 44
Nationality: Japan
Religion: Unknown
Civil Status: Unknown


Date of Execution: July 12, 1991
Location: Japan
Mode of Execution: Stabbing (extrajudicial)
Charges: Religious offense

Human rights violations in this case

Extrajudicial killings

Since the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, national and international human rights organizations have blamed the Islamic Republic authorities for the extrajudicial killing of their opponents, both within and outside of Iran's borders. Although over two hundred cases have been reported, the exact number of victims remains unknown.

Extrajudicial executions carried out in Iran are rarely investigated; the few cases that have been investigated have indicated that the Iranian state security apparatus has been involved. Agents of the Islamic Republic have also targeted dissidents outside the country, assassinating opposition members in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and in the United States,.

In many assassination cases outside Iran, local authorities have made no arrests. However, investigations, when they have taken place and been made public, have led to the single hypothesis of State ordered crimes. The organization and execution of these crimes constitute a pattern that Swiss prosecutor Roland Chatelain describes as “common parameters” following a “meticulous preparation.” Similarities between different cases in different countries have created a coherent set of presumptions designating the Islamic Republic as the instigator of these assassinations.


In cases involving prominent Iranians assassinated in France, Germany, and Switzerland, local prosecutors have provided evidence linking Iranian authorities to the crimes in question.


In France, for example, the Iranian Deputy Minister of Telecommunications has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the 1991 murder of two dissidents. In Germany, agents of Iran's secret services and Lebanese Hezbollah have been convicted for the 1992 murder of four dissidents in Berlin. Currently, the Islamic Republic's Minister of Information and Security at the time of this murder is under an International arrest Warrant launched by German judicial authorities for his involvement.


The German court in Berlin found that Iran's political leadership ordered the murder through a "Committee for Special Operations," whose members reportedly include the Leader of the Islamic Republic, the President, the Minister of Information and Security, and other security officials.

The Islamic Republic’s officials have claimed responsibility for some of these assassinations while denying involvement in others. In the 1980s, Iranian authorities justified extrajudicial executions of dissidents and members of the former regime and actively worked for the release of Iranians and non-Iranian agents who were detained or convicted in the West for their involvement in those killings. During the 1990s, they systematically denied any involvement in extrajudicial killings and often credited the killings to infighting amongst the opposition.


Still, the rationale supporting these killings was articulated as early as in the spring of 1979 when the First Revolutionary religious judge publicly announced the regime's intention to carry out extrajudicial executions. He said:


“no state has the right to try as a terrorist the person who kills [exiles] in foreign lands, for this person is implementing the verdict issued by the Islamic Revolutionary tribunal.”


More than a decade later, in August, 1992, the Minister of Intelligence and Security publicly boasted about the success of Iran's security forces, alluding to the elimination of dissidents:


"We have been able to deal blows to many of the mini-groups outside the country and on the borders...."

Human rights violations

Based on the available information, the following human rights have been violated in this case:

    • The right to liberty and security of the person. The right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 9.1.

    • The right not to be punished for any crime on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time it was committed.

UDHR, Article 11.2; ICCPR, Article 15, Article 6.2.

    • The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to change and manifest his or her religion or belief.

UDHR, Article 18; ICCPR, Article 18.1, ICCPR, Article 18.2; Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Article 1 and Article 6.

In its general comment 22 (48) of 20 July 1993, the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee observed that the freedom to "have or to adopt" a religion or belief necessarily entailed the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one's current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views, as well as the right to retain one's religion or belief. Article 18, paragraph 2, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert.

The right to due process

    • The right to be presumed innocent until found guilty by a competent and impartial tribunal in accordance with law.

ICCPR, Article 14.1 and Article 14.2.

Pre-trial detention rights

    • The right to counsel of one’s own choosing or the right to legal aid. The right to communicate with one’s own attorney in confidence

ICCPR, Article 14.3.b and Article 14.3.d; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 1, Article 2, Article 5, Article 6, Article 8.

    • The right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense case.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.b.

Trial rights

    • The right to a fair and public trial without undue delay.

ICCPR, Article 14.1,

ICCPR, Article 14.3.c.

  • The right to defense through an attorney or legal aid. The right to examine, or have examined, the witnesses against one, and the right to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on one’s behalf under the same conditions as prosecution witnesses.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.d and Article 14.3.e%viol_iccpr_14.3.e%.

  • The right to have the decision rendered in public.

ICCPR, Article 14.1.

Judgment rights

    • The right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction.

ICCPR, Article 14.5.

    • The right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence.

ICCPR, Article 6.4.

Capital punishment
    • The inherent right to life, of which no one shall be arbitrarily deprived.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6.1; Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, Article 1.1, Article 1.2.

    • The right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.

About this Case

Mr. Hitoshi Igarashi is one of hundreds of individuals who have been extrajudicially executed outside of Iran since the 1979 revolution. In many cases, these killings were carried out by agents of the Islamic Republic or can reasonably be assumed to be the result of Iranian government policy. Information about Mr. Hitoshi Igarashi's case was drawn from the Iranian newspaper Jomhuri Eslami (March 4, 16, and July 17, 1991), the New York Times (July 13, 1991), a talk by Professor Shigemi Inaga at the International Conference on the Dialogue of Civilizations at the United Nations University (July 31-August 3, 2001), and Amnesty International report (May 1, 1997) .

Mr. Igarashi, a respected Islamic scholar in Japan, was the translator of The Canon of Medicine by Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and the controversial novel, Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie. This novel was the object of a 1989 fatwa (religious edict) by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in which he had condemned to death the author of the Satanic Verses and those involved in its publication and dissemination.

Mr. Igarashi's murder was linked to his translation of Rushdie’s novel. After the demise of Ayatollah Khomeini, his successors reconfirmed the fatwa. On February 15, 1991, Ayatollah Sane'i, the head of a state sponsored foundation called Bonyad-e Panzdah-e Khordad (created by the Iranian Government on June 15, 1979) appeared on Iranian TV and offered $3 million to any Iranian and a $1 million to any foreigner who killed Rushdie; he raised the prize money to $2 million on March 4, 1991. On March 15, 1991, the same foundation announced that in order to implement Khomeini's death fatwa, it would compensate, support, and protect those who volunteer to kill individuals involved in the publication and dissemination of the Satanic Verses (Jomhuri Eslami, March 16, 1991).

Mr. Igarashi is not the sole victim of the fatwa; the Islamic Republic’s authorities targeted other individuals involved in the translation or publication of the Satanic Verses. On July 3, 1991, the Italian translator of the novel, Ettore Caprioli, was attacked in Milan and stabbed; he survived the assassination attempt. The Italian police investigating Mr. Caprioli's case announced that the assailant had connections with the Islamic Republic's Embassy. On October 11, 1993, William Nygaard, Salman Rushdie's Norwegian publisher, became the victim of an assassination attempt and survived against heavy odds. The Norwegian government reacted to this attack by recalling its ambassador to Iran.

Arrest and detention

Mr. Hitoshi Igarashi was never arrested.


Mr. Igarashi was not summoned before a court, and no public trial was held in his case. It is not known whether he was tried in abstentia in Iran.


No specific charges were brought against Mr. Igarashi. However in his 1989 fatwa, Ayatollah Khomeini charged all the people involved in the publication and dissemination of the Satanic Verses with "insulting the sacred beliefs of Muslims."

Evidence of guilt

The Japanese version of the Satanic Verses.


Mr. Igarashi was not given the opportunity to defend himself before being killed. However, since there was an international debate on the fatwa, he had explained his decision to translate the Satanic Verses. According to Shigemi Inaga (August 1-2, 2001, Kyoto): ".... Igarashi also defended the novel and novelist by locating the writer in the lineage of the Islamic mystical Sufi thought. According to Igarashi, Rushdie was not anti-Islamic, but his passage to England, just like Passage to India by E. M. Foster, represented a literature of exile and could be judiciously compared to the Hejra by Muhammad, to begin with, or to the "Western Exile" in Kairouan by Suhrawardi. By interpreting the Verses as a modern version of Rumi's "Song of a Reed," lamenting the separation from (the) God/Creator, Igarashi identified Rushdie among the mystical and heretic poets of Islamic rage against religious profanation. Igarashi, as a Japanese man, wished to make an intervention as a third party through his Japanese translation, so as to put an end to this endless conflict."


On February 14, 1989, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a death fatwa against the author, the editors and publishers of the Satanic Verses in the following terms: "We are from God and to God we shall return" (Koranic verse). I am informing all brave Muslims of the world that the author of the Satanic Verses, a text written, edited, and published against Islam, the Prophet of Islam, and the Koran, along with all the editors and publishers aware of its contents, are condemned to death. I call on all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world to kill them without delay, so that no one will dare insult the sacred beliefs of Muslims henceforth. And whoever is killed in this cause will be a martyr, God Willing..." (Ruhollah al-Musavi al-Khomeini). On March 5, 1991, a resolution issued by Iranian officials stating that Khomeini's fatwa shall not be void after his death and should be implemented by all means. On July 12, 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi was found stabbed to death on the campus of Tsukuba University, about 40 miles northeast of Tokyo. The police reported that a janitor had found Mr. Igarashi's body near an elevator on the seventh floor of the building with slash wounds on his neck, face, and hands.

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