Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

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

Mohammad Ja'far Puyandeh


Age: 44
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Non-Believer
Civil Status: Married


Date of Killing: December 9, 1998
Location of Killing: Badamak Village, Shahriar, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Extrajudicial killing
Charges: Unknown charge

About this Case

To help his family, he began taking jobs as a 10-year-old, while working harder at his studies. A sociologist and a translator, he translated human rights texts to make them accessible to Iranians.The release of his last translation, on Human Rights Day, coincided with his murder.

Mr. Mohammad Ja’far Puyandeh, writer, translator, and sociologist, is among the victims named in the 2000 Report of the United Nation’s Special Representative. The report included his assassination in the “string of disappearances and suspicious deaths in the second half of 1998 of intellectuals and dissident political figures.”*

“Popular reaction”, the Special Representative noted, “was strong and immediate and became more so as it became clear that the killings were part of what became known as serial killings** committed by officials in or close to the Ministry of Information (Security).” The information about this case has been drawn from several sources (see endnote).

Mr. Mohammad Ja’far Puyandeh was born in 1954 in Ashkazar (Yazd Province) in a disadvantaged family. When he was 10 years old, he started working in addition to studying. He graduated from high school in 1970. He passed the national university entrance exam the same year and enrolled in Tehran University, majoring in judicial law. He was also politically active and opposed the previous regime. In 1974, he enrolled in Sorbonne University (Paris) to study sociology and graduated with a master’s degree three years later. While pursuing his degree in France, he continued his political activism, along with other Iranian students outside Iran. He returned to Iran in August or September 1978 (the introduction to Human Rights: Questions and Answers).

Since age 25, Mr. Puyandeh translated various writings from French to Farsi; he had translated more than 20 such works. His colleagues remember him as a hard-working and thorough translator. Some days, he worked for twenty hours at his old desk (the introduction to Human Rights: Questions and Answers).

Mr. Puyandeh’s focus in translation has been on women’s rights and fighting discrimination based on sex; human rights; and Marxism. He dedicated his translation of Leah Levin’s Human Rights: Questions and Answers to “women and men who fight for the promotion and implementation of human rights. The enforcement of these rights is a prerequisite to the advancement and progress of human kind.” This book, which was released on Human Rights Day, the same day Mr. Puyandeh was murdered, includes the Articles of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and explains their meaning (Journalists Without Borders).

Mr. Mohammad Ja’far Puyandeh played a key role in the re-opening of the Iranian Writers’ Association,** * and can be described as one of the founding members of the Third Association. Almost one month before his death, he said in an interview: “Any legal restraint on the freedom of expression leads to the repression of thoughts and ideas. Limiting freedom of expression should be beyond the reach of political regimes. Repression and censorship will bring about dire consequences, even if the state attempts to use them as tools to protect its people from corruption and perversion” (Peyvand).

Mr. Puyandeh also played a vital part in the writing and publication of a letter, dated October 15, 1994, consisting of objections of 134 writers to censorship and restraints on freedom of expression. This letter reads as follows:

“…We are writers; that is, we write about and publish our feelings, thoughts, and research in various forms. It is our natural, social, and civil right to see our work – be it poetry or fiction, plays or screenplays, criticism or research work, and even translation[s] of other writers’ work… – reach our readers freely and without restriction. No person or institution, under any pretext, should be allowed to hamper the publication of these works. Needless to say, any published work is open to free criticism and judgment by all. While obstacles which face us in our thinking and writing far exceed our individual means and power, we have no alternative but to confront them through collective professional channels, i.e. to unite in order to achieve freedom of thought and expression and to fight against censorship… We reiterate that we are writers and expect to be seen as such, and that our collective presence [is] to be understood as the professional representation of Iranian writers” (website of the Iranian Writers Association).

In late September 1998, a few weeks prior to Mr. Puyandeh’s murder, the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecution Office had summoned him and five other writers (including Mr. Mohammad Mokhtari, another victim of the “serial murders”), all of whom were members of the organizational committee of the Writers Association (Amnesty International, 1998).


In the afternoon of December 9, 1998, Mr. Mohammad Ja’far Puyandeh left his house to attend a publishers meeting, and never returned. According to the testimony of his wife, agents of the Ministry of Intelligence kidnapped Mr. Puyandeh on Iranshahr Street. He was beaten and then strangled. His body was found on December 10, in Badamak village in the Shahriar area near Karaj (his wife’s letter; Melli Mazhabi).

Following Mr. Puyandeh’s disappearance, his wife searched for him in the police station, hospitals, and the houses of relatives and friends. In a letter to the President, she petitioned him to help locate Mr. Puyandeh. On December 11, police officers of the Shahriar area contacted Mr. Puyandeh’s family and stated that they had found a body. The same day, Mr. Puyandeh’s body was identified by his brother-in-law (his wife’s testimony).

State Investigation

Prior to Mr. Puyandeh’s murder, Mr. and Ms. Foruhar, leaders of the Iran Nation Party, had been brutally murdered in their house, and the body of Mohammad Mokhtari, another writer, had been found in the outskirts of Tehran city. The case of these four individuals became known as “the serial murders”. The state investigation and prosecution of the case lasted several years, during which state authorities made various contradictory announcements, resulting in much confusion surrounding the circumstances of the murders. The Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, condemned the killings, calling them “repulsive crimes” and called for an investigation.

On December 14, the President created a special committee to investigate the case of the serial murders (Moshiri on the Melli Mazhabi website). The Ministry of Intelligence announced, on January 5, 1999, that some of the Ministry’s officials were involved in the murders of the four dissidents. The announcement stated: “With the cooperation of the specially appointed Investigatory Committee of the President, the Ministry has succeeded in identifying the group responsible for the killings, has arrested them, and processed their cases through the judicial system.” The announcement blamed a few “irresponsible, misguided, and rogue elements, under the influence of foreign powers” (in Hamshahri 1999). The Minister of Intelligence resigned on February 9, 1999 (Shahbazi).

The case of the serial murders was referred to the Judicial Complex for the Armed Forces. On June 20, the Prosecutor of this entity stated that the mastermind behind the murders was a high-ranking official of the Ministry of Intelligence, named Sa’id Emami (arrested on Jan. 25, 1999; Shahbazi), who had committed suicide while in custody. Mr. Emami was the advisor to the Minister of Intelligence at the time (Radio Farda, 2008).

On August 4, 1999, the military prosecutor’s office issued a communiqué stating that the perpetrators of “the serial murders” intended not to “strike at the opposition, but at the government itself in order to internationally damage the reputation of the Islamic Republic” (Parastu Foruhar’s blog). On January 15, 1999, the Supreme Leader condemned the killings during the Friday sermon, attributing them to foreign powers (Shahbazi). Footage of the interrogation of the suspects, which was leaked to the media and partially released on January 21, 2002 (Indy Media), and was posted on-line, indicated that suspects were under pressure to confess that they had links with foreign entities. The footage included 300 hours of filmed interrogations.

In September 2000, with the completion of the investigation, the victims’ family and lawyers were given ten days to review the files of “over a thousand pages,” learn about the findings, and take notes (Parastu Foruhar’s blog). In response to a list of grievances presented by the family, the authorities undertook some revisions, which they declared complete by November 2000. The trial of the 18 individuals****, who were arrested between November 22 and January 5, 1999, and accused of ordering or participating in the murder of the Foruhars and the two other victims, was held behind closed doors and lasted about a month (12 sessions). The families, who objected to the investigation’s inadequacies and inconsistencies, refused to attend (see section below).

On January 27, 2001, the Fifth Branch of the Tehran Military Court condemned three individuals to death (by retribution), sentenced 12 individuals to prison terms (from two and a half years to life imprisonment) and acquitted 3 individuals. The verdict also stated that the murders have harmed the reputation of the regime, since tolerating the victims, with oppositional political beliefs, was a sign of state benevolence; and that even if these victims were enemies of the state, nevertheless they were harmless enemies (Hamshahri 2001).

In the Islamic Republic Penal Code, the family of a murdered victim determines whether or not the death penalty is enforced. In the case of the “serial murders,” the Foruhars and the two other families involved announced their opposition to the death penalty. Therefore, the defendants sentenced to death were not executed. Instead, the verdicts were referred to the court of appeals. On May 27, 2002, the sentences were commuted to between three to ten years imprisonment (Ms. Foruhar’s blog).

The Islamic Republic authorities have shown little tolerance towards criticism regarding their handling of the investigation and, in particular, the fact that no high official was investigated and the murders were attributed to rogue elements. On December 10, 2000, Dr. Naser Zarafshan, the lawyer of the Puyandeh and Foruhar families, was summoned before a court “in connection with comments that he made about the case” (Amnesty International 2003 Report, Iran Mania). In March 2002, the court, which Amnesty International called “unfair and closed,” sentenced him to 5 years imprisonment and 70 lashes (Ms. Foruhar’s blog).

Publications, which investigated the “serial murders” and attempted to expose the high ranking officials involved in the murders, were closed down and their journalists silenced. One such newspaper was Khordad, which covered the “serial murders” and criticized the investigation of the case. The editor-in-chief of Khordad was tried in a special clergy court, which on December 27, 1999, condemned the editor to 5 years imprisonment and ordered Khordad to be closed for five years (Nehzat-e Azadi). Similarly, the Salam newspaper was closed on July 6, 1999 (BBC, 2004), reportedly based on a news story that Emami had initiated a new law on mass media to limit press freedom (Iran Mania; the closure of Salam led to the events of Tehran University, two days later). Additionally, the publication of Gam-e No, a student periodical, was suspended for two months, starting on May 7, 2001, in part in connection with an article on “the serial murders” (ISNA).

Family’s Objections and Statements

The families of the victims of the “serial murders,” who tried to pursue justice through the Iranian justice system, believe they have been denied justice in Iran. They have thus taken their case to the United Nations. They have repeatedly called attention to fundamental inconsistencies in the investigation of the murders, their lack of access to key testimonies and documents, the reported loss of evidence, and to the flawed judicial process, which did not investigate those responsible for ordering the murders. They also objected to the referral of the case to the Judicial Complex for the Armed Forces.

Since the first anniversary of the “serial murders,” the authorities warned the Puyandeh and Mokhtari families against holding public memorial services, and delivering speeches. The son of Mr. Mokhtari, Sohrab, has said: “It’s a tradition to go to the cemetery and pay respects to the loved ones, and mourn their loss. As far as I know, no official permission is necessary for holding such memorial services. However, since the first few years [after the murders, the authorities] have attempted, through various means, to obstruct memorial services at the cemetery… For example, some people were assigned to use loudspeakers and read the Quran or chant the call to prayer during the memorial ceremonies of my father and Mohammad Ja’far Puyandeh…” (Radio Farda, 2007).

The Puyandeh family has not been publicly vocal about the case of “the serial murders.” We refer to the statements of Ms. Parastu Foruhar, the daughter of two of the victims in the case, who has given numerous interviews and written extensively on the serial murders, including the investigation and prosecution of the defendants. (The “serial murder” case includes Mr. Puyandeh, Mr. Mokhtari, and the Foruhars.) Parastu Foruhar has contended that the “serial murders” were politically motivated and ordered by high ranking state officials, rather than an act carried out by a few “rogue elements” within the Ministry of Intelligence. She noted that the most of the accused continued their work in the Ministry of Intelligence while they were under investigation (her blog).

Ms. Foruhar further questioned the thoroughness and the reliability of the interrogation. For example, the interrogators ignored important statements by the accused, who testified that the physical elimination of political opponents was one of their duties, and had been carried out on the order of the Minister of Intelligence many times prior to the fall of 1998 (Melliun Iran). According to the report of the Hamshahri newspaper (2001), the military Prosecutor decided against the prosecution of the Minister of Intelligence stating that the defendants’ claim was not backed by sufficient evidence. According to Amnesty International, in March 2002, “new video evidence indicated that those interrogated were not permitted to refer to [the Minister of Intelligence] or his alleged role in the killings.” Further, the investigators failed to challenge contradictions in testimonies of the accused and allowed the defendants to conceal their identity (Melliun Iran).

In September 2000, the authorities gave the victims’ families and their lawyers an un-extendable ten-day period to read the files but did not allow them to make copies (Ms. Foruhar’s blog). The files were missing crucial information, including the events and circumstances of the murders, as well as the statements of three defendants, including Sa’id Emami, the leader of the assassination team, who reportedly committed suicide in prison. The authorities had initially reassured the family after the death of Emami that his testimony was available in the file. However the file presented to the family did not contain Emami’s testimony, which, according to the authorities, was “not relevant” to the case. The authorities also claimed that tapes of other defendants’ statements and pictures of the victims had been lost.

Further, Parastu Foruhar noted that the authorities never qualified the claim that foreign powers were involved in the murders. When Ms. Foruhar questioned whether there was hard evidence to support this claim, the authorities told her that this was an analytical, yet accurate, conclusion, without providing any further details (Melliun Iran).

In order to protest against the authorities’ indifference to the objections of the victims’ families, on December 20, 2000, the latter decided to file a complaint with a Parliamentary Commission (empowered under Article 90 of the Constitution to oversee the work of any of the three branches of the government). The Commission met on December 24. The head of the Commission later stated: “Our investigations led to certain people whom we did not have the power to deal with. That’s why the investigations stopped” (ISNA, November 2004, in Human Rights Watch, 2005).

In the face of the Islamic Republic authorities’ refusal to address the grievances of the victims’ families, as well as the irregularities in the investigation of the case, the latter rejected the competence of the court, which prosecuted the accused, and did not attend the trial. They referred the murders of their loved ones to the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

*The information about Mr. Mohammad Ja’far Puyandeh and his extrajudicial killing has been drawn from the following sources: the report of Amnesty International (Dec. 11, 1998), Human Rights Watch (Dec. 15, 1998), Wikipedia, his wife’s letter, published on the fourth anniversary of his death (published on Iranian website, Dec. 12, 2002), his biography in the introduction to the book he translated into Farsi Human Rights: Questions and Answers (published the same day he was murdered), Radio Farda (Dec. 7, 2006; Nov. 29, 2007), BBC (Apr. 11, 2006), the Peyvand website (Dec. 8, 2003), the Melli Mazhabi website, and the website of Journalists Without Borders.

**The information about “the serial murders” and the prosecution of a number of individuals accused of having carried out the assassinations has been drawn from, among others, the interviews and writings of Parastu Foruhar, the daughter of Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar (her blog; the Melliun Iran website, Nov. 19, 2002). Additional sources include Human Rights Watch report (Dec. 2005), Amnesty International (2003 Report), UN Special Representative Report (E/CN.4/2000/35, Jan. 18, 2000), Arman Mostofi’s article (Radio Farda website, May, 21, 2008), the Hamshahri newspaper (Jan. 6, 1999; Jan. 28, 2001), the special report by Iran Mania, Farzad Moshiri (Melli Mazhabi website, Sep. 25, 2005), the website of Abdollah Shahbazi, Iranian Students News Agency (May 7, 2001), the website of Nehzat-e Azadi (Dec. 1, 1999), Mas’ud Behnud’s article on the website of the British Broadcasting Corporation (Jul. 6, 2004), the website of UK Indy Media (Mar. 19, 2002), and the Iran newspaper (May 15, 2002).

Although the official legal process of “the serial murders” followed the killing of four individuals, “[t]here were demands that the investigation be broadened to include many other suspicious deaths going back to 1994… [involving] 50 or more unexplained deaths in recent years. Included were the 1994 deaths of three Christian ministers which had been officially attributed to the Mujahedin, the deaths of Sunni community leaders, and the deaths of dissidents in bombings in Europe” (UN Special Representative).

*** The Iranian Writers Association has had three periods, during each of which its members were pressured and harassed until its activities were stopped. The First Association started its work in April/May of 1968, but its members, despite great insistence, did not succeed in its registration. The Second Association was formed in 1977 and worked for the promotion of democracy and change. In 1981, subsequent to the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the Association halted its work. The Third Association resumed its activities in 1988-89, and its members held its sessions, despite various problems, as a consultancy group. Despite threats and intimidations, the Association still continues its work [as of April 2013].

**** Two individuals accused of ordering murder (initially condemned to life imprisonment), three individuals accused of murder (initially condemned to death), and thirteen individuals accused of conspiracy to murder (initially either acquitted or condemned to imprisonment). 


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