December 24, 2020
“One of the nightmares of my life that always recurs is that [my father’s murder] seems to happen again and again in my sleep, while I struggle to find a way to stop it.”
This has been Sohrab Mokhtari’s nightmare for the past 22 years. Sohrab is the son of Mohammad Mokhtari, a writer and member of the Iran Writers’ Association (IWA), who was abducted by the Ministry of Intelligence agents on December 3, 1998. His dead body was found a week later.
Sohrab was only twelve years old when intelligence forces killed his father. “When you contemplate the historical past, you think about what could have been done to prevent such things from happening,” he said in an interview with Radio Farda. “I wish there had been more and better news coverage about the summoning of members of the IWA to the ‘Revolutionary Court’ at that time. Therefore, everyone could have realized that Iranian writers were under pressure, and people could have become more sensitive. Then, it could never have happened; maybe the families of the victims suffered less.”
The Iranian regime’s intelligence agents murdered Mohammad Mokhtari, Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar in December 1998. Their killings became known as Political Chain Murders. The Ministry of Intelligence was eventually forced to take responsibility for the massacre by issuing statements, claiming that “a few of the ministry’s ‘irresponsible, perverted, and rogue staff, who undoubtedly played into the hands of covert elements and acted in favor of the aliens,’ committed such crimes.”
However, the Ministry never commented on the fate of other dissidents, including Pirouz Davani and Majid Sharif, who were also abducted and murdered at the same time.
Speaking to Radio Farda, Sohrab Mokhtari described the atmosphere of the days when the intelligence agents abducted and killed his father, “We all had peculiar incandescence and anxiety. Weeks before the tragedy, I was alone at home with my father many times, and I felt that he was anticipating danger. One of my habits was going to my father’s room and reading his notes. I used to see that he had written about being summoned to the Revolutionary Court. He had also mentioned the massacres that had taken place, including the murder of the [Dariush and Parvaneh] Forouhars. My father suspected that the Ministry of Intelligence had a list, and they were going after the libertarians and writers according to the list, killing them, one by one.”
On December 3, 1998, when Mohammad Mokhtari did not return home, Sohrab was twelve years old and alone at home. He lived in an atmosphere mixed with anxiety and fear that had existed in their home for years due to recurring interrogations and threats that, at the time of his father’s abduction, had intensified.
“Along with this worry and fear, there was the possibility that they had also killed my father like the Forouhars. I was more worried. In my solitary, I was suffering from anxiety. The next day, I called my brother, and he returned home. He tried to go everywhere so that he might find a trace of our father but failed. The following week they informed us. My brother identified our father’s body at the morgue. Our ominous anticipation and fears came true, and we found out that they had murdered our father.”
Before 1998, the regime killed dissidents and political activists in silence, with neither the media nor Iranian society raising fundamental questions about the murders. The Political Chain Murders changed the atmosphere and triggered a public outcry, with media sources following the shocking murders, eventually forcing the Minister of Intelligence to accept responsibility for the killings.
“The killings caused a stir, and the authorities in Iran were under pressure to try to find a way to close the case somehow,” Sohrab said. “From the beginning, the regime aimed to close the murders’ file by covering up and removing the essential evidence that existed. Suspicious suicide of Saeed Emami, the so-called prime suspect, and removing part of the confessions of the perpetrators of the killings, who blamed the Intelligence Minister and other high-ranking officials for the massacre, seemed to be orchestrated toward that aim. In fact, the purpose from the beginning was to limit the case to four murders and close the file.”
“Nonetheless, if anyone wanted to investigate the case to reveal the truth, they should also look into the murder of Ghaffar Hosseini and similar murders that had taken place before.”
Ghaffar Hosseini was a poet, translator, university professor, and a member of the Iranian Writers’ Association, who was murdered on November 11, 1996, at his home in Tehran. Later, public opinion added his name to the list of the Political Chain Murders’ victims.
The killings and the repression process “had taken place over the years, and it was not something that the Ministry of Intelligence had decided to do in the fall of 1998,” Sohrab said. “Since the early 1990s, there were groups in the Ministry of Intelligence in charge of eavesdropping, monitoring, interrogating, and threatening writers. In a fair trial, all this would have been disclosed. Unfortunately, there was no fair trial, and even those who claimed at the time that they wanted a fair hearing were in unison with the Islamic Republic’s intelligence services in believing that their political system was in danger.”
“Iranian writers and dissidents were under intelligence agents’ pressure for years before 1998,” Sohrab added, recalling that intelligence agents had harshly threatened Ghaffar Hosseini in 1996. “After going under repeated interrogation, Mr. Hosseini often came to our house to consult with my father,” he said.
“I found out one day that he was no longer alive and that his death was highly suspicious,” he added. “But at that time, unfortunately, there was no flow of information concerning his death. From a human point of view, it has always been painful for me. It also reflects the atmosphere and environment we were in at the time. Our experience of the government’s cruelty was not limited to 1998. Long before that, in the early 1990s, they repeatedly interrogated my father, and the helplessness we felt at the time was very painful.”
The killing of dissidents took place when communication was not as widespread as it is today. There was no Internet, and the media facilities of writers and libertarians were extremely limited.
“It made the writers and libertarians live in very painful helplessness,” Sohrab said. “Some of them were killed in complete silence, and unfortunately, people still rarely talk about them. It is a great pain that is both excruciating and reflective of our lives’ conditions t the time. I spent my childhood in such circumstances, and unfortunately, we know truly little about the suffering of many Iranian libertarians who lived in such conditions in the 1980s and early 1990s.”
The regime’s official acceptance of responsibility for the killings of at least four people, including Mohammad Mokhtari, also did not ease security pressures on the relatives of the Political Chain Murders’ victims. 22 years have passed since the massacres in 1998, but the victims’ families are still unable to commemorate their loved ones.
“From the very beginning, as reflected in the legal case itself, there was a consensus over tackling the murders as a sensitive intelligence issue that every aspect of it should be covered up, and none of its details publicized,” Sohrab said. “Since then, whatever has been related to my father, Mr. Pouyandeh and the Forouhars, including their annual commemoration and memorial has been overshadowed by the same intelligence approach.”
“I mean, the intelligence apparatuses of the Islamic Republic have repeatedly banned gatherings related to the victims of the Political Chain Murders,” he added. “Even members of the Iranian Writers’ Association are not allowed to visit the victims’ graves. Or, if they insisted, security forces stormed the cemeteries, beating and dispersing the visitors.”
According to Sohrab, there is now another unwritten “new crime,” that visiting the burial places of Mohammad Mokhtari, Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh and even [contemporary great Persian poet] Ahmad Shamloo is a crime and endangers national security.
Now, on the 22nd anniversary of Mohammad’s assassination, Sohrab has launched an official website for his father.
“The site provides information about my father’s works and his legacy,” he said. “It was important to spread my father’s thoughts and ideas since the [intelligence services’] main aim in killing my father was blocking the circulation of his thoughts and ideas. Meanwhile, we offer the public more than thirty unpublished poems, research, and translations by my father.”
Mohammad Mokhtari’s works included “The Practice of Tolerance,” “Born of World’s Anxiety,” “Seventy Years of Love Lyrics,” “On the Shoulder of the Plateau,” “In the Illusion of Sinbad,” “The Iranian Epopee, “The Composite Eye” and an anthology of poems.