November 12, 2020
UN rapporteurs implicitly accused Turkey of allowing Iranian intelligence to perpetrate or orchestrate extrajudicial killings on Turkish soil and of allowing an Iranian who reportedly played a key role in the assassination of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in Istanbul to escape to Iran, a joint UN letter revealed.
Vardanjani was shot dead on an Istanbul street on November 14, 2019, a year after he left Iran and sought refuge in Turkey. Citing Turkish officials, Reuters reported in March that two intelligence officers in Iran’s consulate in Istanbul had instigated his killing.
Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, sent a joint letter dated August 4 to the Turkish government to express serious concern about the killing of Vardanjani in Turkey, “reportedly at the direction and involvement of Iranian authorities.”
The UN letter revealed how “the Turkish government has failed to conduct appropriate, formal investigations into the killing.”
According to the UN letter, Vardanjani had relocated to Istanbul in June 2018 and run a channel in Turkey on Telegram called “Black Box,” which published corruption allegations against members of the Iranian government, judiciary and intelligence services.
Vardanjani had posted a message on social media criticizing Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards three months before he was shot dead. “I will root out the corrupt mafia commanders,” the post reportedly said.
“Pray that they don’t kill me before I do this.”
The letter revealed that Vardanjani befriended another Iranian citizen, Ali Esfanjani, who allegedly reported on him to the Iranian intelligence and assisted with carrying out the plan to assassinate him.
According to Reuters, Vardanjani worked in cyber security at Iran’s defense ministry and had become a vocal critic of the Iranian authorities.
The Turkish police report named Esfanjani as the leader of the team that carried out Vardanjani’s killing. Also, three days after the killing, Esfanjani was taken across the border from Turkey into Iran by an Iranian smuggler, a Turkish official told Reuters.
A week after the killing, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had described it as “another tragic example in a long string of suspected Iran-backed assassination attempts” of Iranian dissidents.
With reference to Articles 2 and 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Turkey on September 23, 2003, the UN letter reminded the Turkish government that “ … States parties must take appropriate measures to protect individuals against deprivation of life by other States in areas operating on their territory, and States also have obligations under international law not to aid or assist activities undertaken by other States that violate the right to life.”
The UN officials recalled the importance of the right to life, saying, “immunities and amnesties provided to perpetrators of intentional killings and to their superiors, and comparable measures leading to de facto or de jure impunity, are, as a rule, incompatible with the duty to respect and ensure the right to life, and to provide victims with an effective remedy.”