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

Neda Aqa Soltan

About

Age: 26
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam
Civil Status: Single

Case

Date of Execution: June 20, 2009
Location: Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Execution: Shooting (extrajudicial)

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, some or all of the following human rights may have been violated in this case:

  • 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 one’s 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 freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.

    UDHR, Article 19; ICCPR, Article 19.1 and ICCPR, Article 19.2.

  • The right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

    UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 21.

The right to due process

Pre-trial detention rights

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

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

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

    ICCPR, Article 14.3.b; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 8

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

    UDHR, Article 5; ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1, and Article 2.

Trial rights

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

      ICCPR, Article 9.3, Article 14.1, Article 14.3.c.

    • The right to examine, or have examined the witnesses against one and to obtain the attendance and examination of defense witnesses under the same conditions as witnesses for the prosecution.

ICCPR, Article 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

The information about Ms. Neda Aqa-Soltan was taken from reports by Amnesty International (June 22 and 23, 2009), Human Rights Watch (June 23, 2009), the HBO documentary “For Neda” (2010), the BBC (June 22, 25, 26, and July 28, 2009), the Los Angeles Times (June 23, 2009), the Guardian (June 24, 2009), the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA, June 26, 2009), the Iranian Student News Agency, ISNA (June 29, 2009), the Mehr News Agency (July 1, 2009), Radio Farda (July 2, 2009), the Tabnak Professional News Site (July 3, 2009), the Amir Kabir Newsletter, AUTNEWS (July 27, 2009), CBS (September 23, 2009), materials posted on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as from Dr. Arash Hejazi’s blog, who was an eye witness to her death.

Her mother says that Ms. Aqa-Soltan was a rebel. “From the age of three, she never accepted control. She fought with the school authorities not to wear a chador and she won that battle... She was tormented that she couldn’t swim in the sea and be herself in the street. She really suffered because of that forced hejab.” She was courageous and frank. She loved Arab dancing, western and Turkish pop music and especially music of Googoosh, an Iranian pop singer (HBO documentary). She also liked to read. Her music teacher remembers that “She was a person full of joy… She was a beam of light.” According to those close to her, “Travel was her passion… She took private classes to become a tour guide, including Turkish-language courses, friends said, hoping to someday lead groups of Iranians on trips abroad” (LA Times).

Ms. Aqa-Soltan studied Islamic philosophy at Tehran Azad University but she dropped out after only two semesters. Her sister explains, “She used to say that ‘the God they are teaching at these universities is different from the God I worship.’ The professor taught them about a vengeful God but Neda said, ‘This is not my God. The God I worship, is a compassionate and loving God’” (HBO documentary). She thought that the 2009 presidential election would be futile. Only after seeing televised debates between the candidates, did she think the stakes were high and decided to vote. On election day (June 12, 2009), she went to three different polling stations, and saw that only representatives of Mr. Ahmadinejad were present. She protested and said that representatives of other candidates should also be present. She did not cast a vote.

Once the election result were announced, she participated in demonstrations protesting the results. On June 20, 2009, Ms. Neda Aqa-Soltan was shot and killed by a plain-clothes agent on a motorcycle at 7:20 p.m. in the Kargar neighborhood of Tehran. That day, Ms. Aqa-Soltan attended the demonstration along with her music instructor. According to an eyewitness – a medical doctor who was standing by her at the time of the shooting – she was shot in the heart and died instantaneously, as bystanders filmed her death on cell phone cameras.

Dr. Hejazi told a BBC reporter “We heard that there were things going on in the street nearby; and there were protests going on. So we decided to go out and take a look. We walked through an alley called Khosravi to the main street Kargar where the protests were going on and the anti-riot police was coming by motorcycle towards the crowd... Neda and [a] man... were staying there among the crowd. All of a sudden, everything turned crazy because the anti-riot police threw tear-gases [sic] among people and the motorcycle started rushing towards people. People ran through the Khosravi Alley. We too, with my friends... ran to the intersection, the other end of the alley, the intersection with Salehi Street... And there, people were just standing. They did not know what to do, either to scatter, to leave, or to wait and see what happens. We heard a gunshot. Neda was standing one meter away from me... All of a sudden, I turned back and saw blood gushing out of Neda’s chest... We had the impression that it [the bullet] had come from a rooftop. But later on... some people... actually took someone with a Basij card, and they said that he was on a motorcycle coming from the other way, hiding in the corner. Some people shouted that ‘we caught him, we caught him.’ People went towards him and they disarmed him, and took out his identity cards, which was a Basij member. And he was shouting, because people were furious, and he was shouting ‘I didn’t want to kill her’... They just got him and they didn’t know what to do with him. Some people said ‘don’t harm him; we are not killers, like them’... They said ‘we can’t even give him back to the police because they would just let him go’…He was just crying… So they let him go… They took his identity cards... I noticed that some people were taking photos of him…” (BBC, June 25, 2009).

Large crowds attended Neda’s memorial service on July 30, 2009 and gathered at her grave at Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery in Tehran. Police forces attacked the attendees and used tear gas to disperse them. They attacked the mourners with clubs and batons. Twelve year old Ali Reza Tavassoli was hit in the head with a baton and died. Several persons were arrested at this memorial service.

Reaction of Iranian Officials

On June 24, 2009, the Guardian reported that police had forced her family out of their apartment in order to prevent crowds from gathering and holding of memorial ceremonies for her. The police patrolled the street where the family used to reside.

Iranian officials did not accept responsibility for her death. Some called it a spectacle created by computer software to harm the reputation of the Islamic Republics. Some officials associated her death with affiliates of the Mojahedin Khalq Organization, as well as with foreign agents and a BBC correspondent.

Mahmud Ahmadinejad, winner of the contested presidential election, addressed the head of the judiciary in a letter dated June 29, 2009 and asked for investigation into this case. The letter says, “Considering the countless rumors flying around this heart wrenching incident, the extensive and malicious propaganda barrage of foreign media, and a plethora of circumstantial evidence, it is certain that the intrusion of Iran’s enemies and detractors in this matter is to take unwarranted political advantage and stain the unblemished image of the Islamic republic” (ISNA).

On July 1, 2009, the chief of national police said in a press conference, “Neda’s murder was a plot and is completely unrelated to the riots in Tehran” (Mehr News Agency). He stated that Mr. Hejazi was wanted by Ministry of Intelligence as well as by Interpol for “spreading poisonous accusations against the regime of the Islamic Republic and muddying the waters.” However, Radio Farda reported that the Press Office of Interpol did not receive any such request from Iranian authorities.

Some time after Ms. Aqa-Soltan was killed, pictures of the identification cards belonging to the murder suspect were posted on line. Mr. Hejazi confirmed on his blog that the picture matches his recollection of the person who was captured after her death, and who shouted, “I didn’t want to kill her.” One of his ID cards showed that he was under the supervision of the “Committee of Fighters of West Tehran.” Another ID card, issued by the Ministry of the Interior, stated that it was valid from June 16 to June 18, 2009. The card also holds the signature of deputy governor of the Province of Tehran, who is also the governor of Tehran’s electoral district.

In a CBS interview dated September 23, 2009, Mahmud Ahmadinejad called Ms. Aqa-Soltan “a victim of an agitation of circumstance. An agitation that was carried out with the support of some American politicians, the voice of America, and the BBC.”

Family members’ Reaction

Ms. Aqa-Soltan’s fiancé told the BBC on June 22, 2009: “We worked so hard to get the authorities to release her body. She was taken to a morgue outside Tehran. The officials from the morgue asked if they could use parts of her corpse for body transplants for medical patients. They didn’t specify what exactly they intended to do. Her family agreed because they wanted to bury her as soon as possible. We buried her in the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery in southern Tehran… On Monday afternoon, we had planned to hold a memorial service at the mosque. But the authorities there and the paramilitary group, the Basij, wouldn’t allow it because they were worried it would attract unwanted attention and they didn’t want any more trouble.”

In a meeting with a presidential candidate who protested the results, Ms. Aqa-Soltan’s mother criticized the authorities’ questioning of the cause of her daughter’s death. . She said, “Like many other youth, Neda was interested in the future of her country. Like many other youth, she protested the election results… Some claim that she had personal enemies. How could she have such personal enemies? She was not an attorney or a minister. She was just a young woman who was sensitive to her own future and that of her society…” (AUTNEWS).

Ms. Aqa-Soltan’s sister questioned claims that affiliates of the Mojahedin Khalq Organization had killed her. “If it was the work of the Hypocrites [words Iranian officials use to refer to the MKO members and sympathizers], why are we not allowed to hold a memorial ceremony? Why are we not allowed to rent a hall where our friends and family can gather? Even our reservation at a cafeteria, where we wanted to hold a private ceremony, was canceled” (BBC, July 28, 2009).

Ms. Aqa-Soltan’s mother announced that she would attend the memorial service at the cemetery to mark the 40thday of her death. However, a few hours before the day of event, she stated that due to certain reasons, she and other family members would not attend the service.

Officials of the Foundation for Martyrs and Veterans Affairs stated that Ms. Aqa-Soltan was killed in a plot of enemies and dissidents, and that her family would be rendered reparation. However, Ms. Aqa-Soltan’s mother stated that her death was not a plot; she had gone out on that eventful day to serve her country and was killed like many other young people. She said she would not accept reparations from the Foundation of Martyrs.

Background

Election returns from Iran’s June 12th, 2009, presidential election declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected with 62.63 percent of the vote. Following the announcement, citizens disputing these official results demonstrated in the streets. Text messaging services were disrupted starting at 11:00 p.m. on the night before the election and remained unavailable for nearly three weeks, until July 1st. On Election Day, the deputy chief of Iranian police announced a ban on any gathering of presidential candidates’ supporters throughout the country. The same evening, security forces made a “show of strength,” increasing their presence in Tehran’s public squares to “reinforce security at polling stations.” Officials at election headquarters began reporting results soon after midnight, despite a statement from the Minister of the Interior that the first returns would not be announced until after the morning prayer (around 4:00 a.m.).

Many supporters of other presidential candidates came out into the streets on June 13th, once the results were made public, to protest what they believed to be a fraudulent election. Candidates Mir Hossein Musavi, Mehdi Karubi, and Mohsen Reza’i, Ahmadinejad’s competitors in the race, contested the election, alleging many instances of fraud. They filed complaints with the Council of Guardians, the constitutional body charged with vetting candidates before elections take place and approving the results afterwards, requesting an annulment and calling for a new election. Before the Council of Guardians could review their claims, however, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, congratulated Ahmadinejad on his re-election. In the meantime, many people active in Karubi’s and Musavi’s campaigns were arrested.

On June 15th, unprecedented demonstrations filled the streets of central Tehran, in which an estimated three million protestors participated, according to statements attributed to the mayor of Tehran. As the demonstrations were ending, paramilitary forces attacked the marchers, injuring and killing several people. To prevent such news from being broadcast, the Iranian government expelled foreign journalists from the country and banned news agencies from reporting on the events. Over the next three days, protesters took part in peaceful demonstrations in Tehran. The repression entered a new phase on June 19thafter Ayatollah Khamenei’s Friday sermon, in which he announced his support for Ahmadinejad and warned protestors that they were responsible for any disorder and its consequences. Amnesty International stated that the speech gave “legitimacy to police brutality.” The next day and thereafter, police and plainclothes paramilitary groups attacked the protesters. Public gatherings of any kind were declared illegal, and police, motorcycle-riding special units wearing black uniforms and helmets, and plainclothes agents brutally enforced this restriction.

Individuals in civilian clothing, commonly referred to as plainclothes forces, are used in the Islamic Republic to disrupt political and trade union activities, student events and gatherings, electoral initiatives, and protests. Armed with sticks and clubs, and sometimes with chains, knives, batons, or firearms, they emerge when the state decides to suppress dissent. These plainclothes forces move about freely, violently beating protesters and arresting them, while the police passively look on or actively cooperate with them.

There is little information on the command structure and organization of such groups, whose members wear ordinary clothing rather than official uniforms and may be affiliated with the ministry of information, influential political groups, or the armed forces. Following the post-election demonstrations in June 2009, pictures of some plainclothes agents were posted on internet websites. Internet users helped to identify some of them and provided evidence that these individuals were affiliated with the Basij paramilitary groups, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and state intelligence forces. On September 16, 2009, a deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps of the Province of Tehran confirmed the active and decisive role of Basij forces in the repression of the demonstrations, saying, “Basijis, through their presence in recent events, have blinded the eyes of the conspirators, and they should be appreciated… The enemies of Islam wanted to make the air dusty and to exploit the recent events, but thank God, through the enlightenment of the Honorable Leader we were victorious against this conspiracy.” He also emphasized, “The zealous youth of [the] Basij, believers in the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent, are the second and third generations of the Revolution. They have been successful in this stage and victorious on this battlefield.”

When personal property was damaged during the protests, government authorities and state-run radio and television programs accused the demonstrators of vandalism and justified the repression. At the same time, however, footage posted online showed security forces destroying and damaging property on side streets and in uncongested areas away from the protests. Moreover, in a public gathering in Tehran on October 20th, the chief of Iranian police conceded that police had destroyed and damaged property and accepted responsibility for it.

The precise number of citizens injured, killed, or disappeared in the post-election violence is not known. According to various reports, there were hundreds of victims in demonstrations throughout the country. More than seventy names have been reported. It is said that officials have threatened victims’ family members, demanding their silence and that they refrain from giving interviews. Reports also allege that returning a victim’s body to a family has been made conditional upon their agreement to change the cause of death listed on the coroner’s certificate to that of a heart attack or some other natural cause — thus foregoing the right to file a complaint — as well as the family's agreement not to hold memorial services for the loved one.

According to government statements, more than 4,000 people were arrested throughout Iran in the weeks following June 12th. Many have been held at the Kahrizak Detention Center, where prisoners’ rights and minimum hygiene standards were typically ignored. Numerous reports of violence, including the torture and rape of detainees, have been published. State reports and testimonies confirm that a number of detainees at Kahrizak died in custody due to beatings, difficult and unbearable prison conditions, and torture.

Correct This Entry