Desperate times call for desperate measures, they say.
Suspicious suicides in Iran’s prisons are recently gaining attention inside the country and abroad, resulting in a wave of criticism targeting Tehran’s rulers.
For those unfamiliar with the sensitive topic of Iran’s suicides that mushroom at desperate times for the clerical regime, a short look at the history behind this concept is necessary.
Furthermore, interesting is how Tehran kills an individual to destroy any evidence of wrongdoing and diverts attention from one issue to another.
Saeed Imami, or Saeed Islami, was deputy Minister of Intelligence during the presidency of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He was introduced as the main suspect of Iran’s “chain murders,” a string of crimes that took the lives of a number of writers and political activists back in the 1990s.
Following his arrest, reports of Imami’s death in a Tehran hospital made headlines on June 20th, 1999. The next day an official of Iran’s Armed Forces Judiciary Organization said Imami committed suicide in the capital’s Evin Prison.
Imami took all knowledge of the chain murders to his grave and his “suicide” diverted attention completely away from those gruesome crimes.
During the college student protests of June 2003 and the apprehension of a number of activists, their families staged a rally on June 23rd outside Evin Prison. Zahra Kazemi, a 55-year-old Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, was doing her job at the scene.
Arrested on that day, Kazemi spent 18 days in detention and died on July 11th. Judiciary officials said she fainted, leading to her falling and suffering a brain haemorrhage, resulting in a brain stroke. Her death was officially announced on July 16th.
Iran’s parliament at the time accused the controversial judge Saeed Mortazavi as the first suspect in this case. Considering the consequences of such a judge being placed on trial and those he could take down with him, a year later a 42-year-old Intelligence Ministry employee was condemned on charges of murdering Kazemi. However, he was acquitted due to “lack of evidence.”
Kazemi’s death sent a message to anyone seeking to stage protests or cover such news in Iran, and completely cloaked the subject of why the college students were protesting at the time.
From July 16th, 2003 to this day relations between Canada and Iran have been tarnished and never fully recovered.
Zahra Bani Yaghoub
This 27-year-old woman studying medicine in Tehran University was arrested on October 12, 2007. However, 48 hours later, her family learned their daughter died in “suspicious circumstances” while held at a detention center in Hamedan, western Iran.
A report claimed Yaghoub committed suicide the very night she was apprehended. Her family has never accepted such claims.
Protests and the referral of this case to an appeals court in Tehran Province only resulted in the accused being acquitted.
Ruholamini, Kamrani and Javadifar
These three individuals all “committed suicide” in Iran’s notorious Kahrizak Prison, a detention center gaining attention following the 2009 uprising. Mohsen Ruholamini, Mohammad Kamrani and Amir Javadifar were all arrested during the unrest and transferred to Kahrizak along with many others.
Ruholamini was arrested on July 9th of that year and died six days later during his transfer to Evin Prison.
Kamrani, 18, was arrested on the same day near Tehran’s Vali Asr Square and taken to Kahrizak. Following his transfer to Evin Prison he was taken to the capital’s Loghman Hospital and lost his life on July 16th at Mehr Hospital.
Javadifar, also arrested on July 9th, died on July 14th.
Despite a court hearing on this matter, the families of these three young men sought the prosecution of the main elements involved in their sons’ murder. Once again, the name of Saeed Mortazavi and two of his colleagues, Ali Akbar Heidarifar and judge Haddad, the officials who ordered those arrested to Kahrizak, were mentioned significantly.
The “suicides” of these three, one being the son of an individual close to the regime, sent messages across the board and boosted Tehran’s efforts focusing to divert attention away from the 2009 unrest that rocked the nation.
Hoda Rezazadeh Saber, aka Hoda Saber, a journalist serving her time behind bars, launched a hunger strike on June 2nd, 2011, protesting the suspicious death of activist Hale Sahabi at the funeral ceremony of her father, Ezzatollah Sahabi.
Saber died on June 11th following her transfer to Tehran’s Modares Hospital. Authorities claimed she died of heart disorder.
Her death again diverted attention from a more important subject, being the Sahabis and the mysterious nature of deaths among their family members.
This 35-year-old laborer attracted the Iranian authorities’ attention through his blogs. Iran’s cyber police, FATA, arrested Beheshti on October 30, 2012, accusing him of staging “measures against national security” through Facebook. Beheshti died four days later.
“Following an autopsy on November 5th the forensics said there was no reason for an unnatural death,” according to the spokesman of Iran’s judiciary in this regard.
This incident raised quite a stir inside the country and abroad. As a result, following a complaint filed by the Beheshti family, a FATA police member was sentenced to three years behind bars. The Beheshti family protested the ruling and the case was referred to a public court that denied their request, refusing to rule out the “semi-deliberate murder” ruling of the initial court.
Complicating the judicial process and ruling, and sending the family scrambling between a variety of courts were all part of the Iranian authorities’ measures to again cloak the main issue at hand of why Beheshti was murdered under torture for merely placing posts on Facebook.
During the recent unrest, this young man was arrested and mysteriously died on January 6th following his transfer to the quarantine section of Evin Prison’s ward 4.
“Ghanbari hanged himself early morning after going to the bathroom,” said Mostafa Mohebi, Director General of Tehran Province prisons.
Iranian MP Alireza Rahimi, among the representatives who visited Evin Prison and viewed the “Sina Ghanbari suicide” video, said the footage shows the prison bathroom hours prior to Ghanbari’s death and there is no actual scene of his claimed suicide.
Again we see how Iranian authorities raise the issue of alleged footage to divert attention from the murder, while the entire scenario sidetracks attention from the main issue at hand, being the nationwide Iranian uprising and the people’s demands for regime change.
Kavous Seyed Emami
The latest case of such mysterious deaths is related to Iranian-Canadian environmental activist and sociology professor Kavous Seyed Emami, arrested on January 24th and announced dead February 8th in prison.
“This individual was amongst those accused of spying under the cover of environmental work,” said Tehran public prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlat Abadi.
Emami’s death was vastly covered in the media and discussed in social media. The Canadian government has twice demanded Iran explain his death.
Iranian MP Ali Mottahari says authorities showed him and other MPs footage of Imami’s prison cell. However, the claimed moment of suicide is not vividly seen in the footage, Mottahari said to the media.
Recent reports in Iranian websites are citing an official in the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence rejecting all claims of Emami’s suicide, adding he was murdered with a high dosage of sodium thiopental in ward 2A of Tehran’s Evin Prison.
The very essence of suicides in Iran should sound alarm bells. All such cases are suspicious, to say the least.
Considering the fact that many more dissidents are behind bars, unfortunately it is safe to say we will hear more such “suicides“ in the future.
Concentrated efforts pressuring Tehran are needed to have all political prisoners, dissidents and protesters currently behind bars released. This type of support will boost the Iranian people’s struggle to obtain freedom from this regime and establish democracy.
Disclaimer - This author is writing under a pseudonym to protect his identity.