Ebrahim Zalzadeh was the managing director of the Bamdad (“Dawn”) and Ebtekar (“Initiative”) publishing houses, and editor-in-chief of Me’yar (“Standard”) magazine. (Supplied)

December 19, 2020

In Ebrahim Zalzadeh’s last editorial, addressed to the Iranian regime’s strong man, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, he declared, “Dictatorship will not last.”

In response, regime forces broke his fingers and, after stabbing him 17 times, cut his artery and dumped his body in the deserts of Yaft Abad, a poverty-stricken district southwest of the Iranian capital city, Tehran.

Iranian intelligence agents abducted the 49-year-old Zalzadeh, a political activist, dissident, journalist, and publisher, on February 22, 1997. The coroner’s report said his body was discovered half-buried and with multiple stab wounds in the chest, around February 24 by a road in Yaft Abad.

Speaking exclusively to Radio Farda’s Fereshteh Qazi, Ebrahim Zalzadeh’s brother, Hossein, has disclosed his brother’s murder details.

Zalzadeh was the managing director of the Bamdad (“Dawn”) and Ebtekar (“Initiative”) publishing houses, and editor-in-chief of Me’yar (“Standard”) magazine. In an editorial entitled, “We are malapropos callers to prayer,” Zalzadeh addressed the incumbent president, mid-ranking cleric Hashemi Rafsanjani, in Me’yar in 1996, asserting, “Mr. President! History has taught us that no dictatorial system has been and will not be permanent. You are aware that any system that fails to learn from history and adapts its policies against the masses’ demands will have the same fate as the previous dictatorial regimes and will collapse. History is neither written by you nor me, but by the masses.”

After the scathing editorial, Iran’s fearsome intelligence services banned Me’yar, and abducted and killed Ebrahim Zalzadeh sometime later.

“Rafsanjani’s entourage said that he was furious when he read the editorial and inquired , ‘Is there anyone to stifle or silence him?’ They banned the magazine immediately, and after a while, he met his fate.”

A day before Ebrahim’s abduction, his brother, who was on his way to Baku from Germany, asked him to travel to Azerbaijan, as well. Ebrahim responded, ‘I am swamped, and they are unbelievably shadowing me.'”

This was the last time that Hossein talked to his brother and heard his voice.

Iran -- Iran's powerful figure in 1980s, President Ali Khamenei (L), Parliament Speaker Akber Hashemi Rafsanjani (C) and Head of Judiciary Mousavi Ardabili, undated.
Iran — Iran’s powerful figure in 1980s, President Ali Khamenei (L), Parliament Speaker Akber Hashemi Rafsanjani (C) and Head of Judiciary Mousavi Ardabili, undated.

The next day, on Ebrahim’s way back from his office, across the street from where he lived, he bought a bouquet of jasmine for his wife from a florist about 200 to 250 yards from his house and headed home. Intelligence forces abducted him shortly before reaching his house and took him to an unknown location. Five days later, Ebrahim’s car was found on Tavanir Street, near the Tehran neighborhood of Vanak. Under his seat was Ebrahim’s press card, and on the back seat was the bouquet of jasmines bought for his wife, withered and dried.

Finding Ebrahim’s press card under his car’s seat, according to his brother, was a signal to his abduction. Ebrahim and his journalist friends had made a covenant that they should drop their press cards underneath their car seat if abducted or endangered.

For 37 days, Ebrahim’s family lived in a blackout, deprived of any news about his health or whereabouts. Meanwhile, Iranian authorities stressed that they were unaware of his fate but cautioned Ebrahim’s wife to be silent and refrain from informing the media.

“They (officials) said do not inform anyone and do not say anything about him so that we can follow up. Some wondered if he had traveled. Since they had briefly arrested Ebrahim several times before, his friends said he might have been detained again. Ebrahim’s friends also consoled us by saying, they (intelligence agents) did not want to claim responsibility for the moment; therefore, nothing will happen, and they will release him,” Hossein Zalzadeh bitterly remembers.

Alas, the tragedy had occurred during the news blackout.

“After 37 days, the authorities said Ebrahim was killed, and his body was dumped in the deserts of Yaft Abad. The deserts are located southwest of the central district of Tehran. There are lots of aqueducts in that area. That is, they (intelligence agents) wanted the body to be discovered. Otherwise, they could have dropped it into one of the aqueducts, where most likely nobody could find it. But they had thrown the body on the curbside. In forensic medicine, my cousin, along with a friend of mine who worked at my brother’s publishing house, identified Ebrahim’s body at the coronary.”

Even after 24 years, describing the condition of Zalzadeh’s body is shocking to his brother, “His face always appears in front of my eyes, and it is tough for me to talk about it. I do not know how they call themselves human beings. If one picks up a pen or a pencil and hit a piece of paper seventeen times, they get tired. They stabbed my brother seventeen times in the chest and then cut his artery; as the saying goes, a ‘coup de grâce.'”

But stabbing was merely a part of the brutal killing, “Before stabbing him; they had broken his fingers. That was, practically following the Ayatollah Khomeini’s instruction. He had ordered, ‘Break the poisonous pens of journalists.’ At that time, they crushed Ibrahim’s pen; that is, his fingers. They smashed all ten of his fingers.”

At the time, Ebrahim Zalzadeh’s brothers and sisters lived in Germany. His mother was also in Germany when they abducted and killed him. Her children, unable to tell her about the tragedy, went to visit her, all in black.

“My mother had a heart problem and had surgery. She kept telling me to bring me some good news. Ebrahim was his eldest son, and my mother was just fourteen years older than him. She was fourteen when she gave birth to Ebrahim, and Ebrahim was forty-five when they killed him. To prevent my mother’s heart attack, I talked to a cardiologist to tell my mother that she should be hospitalized. Then, while under cardiologist care, we could tell her about Ebrahim. Nevertheless, even at the hospital, I found myself unable to tell my mom that they had killed her son. I just said let’s wear black clothes and visit mom. When she saw us all in black, she started screaming and fainted despite being given a strong sedative.”

Zalzadeh’s mother left for Iran to say farewell to her son’s body on the doctor’s advice. Six months after that farewell, she had a stroke and died.

After that, only Ebrahim’s wife was left in Iran to pursue her husband’s case. Soon, the intelligence agents started to threaten her. They told her to stop following her husband’s case.

“The murder’s case was shelved. Unfortunately, we could not do anything. The intelligence agents did not even allow us to hold a proper funeral. His burial place was full of security officers ordering us to bury him quickly, and that was it. And then they started to threaten us. They summoned his wife to an office called the Islamic Human Rights Commission. The address given was a very remote house in a complex with a three-floor car park. Ebrahim’s wife told me that they had attached handwriting on the iron door, which said, ‘Islamic human rights.’ There were only a desk and two chairs inside the room, and they said very comfortably, ‘Either you will be silent, or we will silence you.’

24 years later, however, there is no cure for the wound left by Ebrahim Zalzadeh’s abduction, torture, and death.

RFE-RL

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.