Sunday, June 11, 2006

Fatemeh Ghaem-Maghami Murder Case Reopened

Koroush Salimi, Rooz Online:
An Iranian judge has decided to reopen the 9-year-old mysterious murder case of a flight attendant which was initially closed because of the interference and lobbying of top intelligence officials at the time. Some of the former intelligence officials who may have been involved in the murder currently hold positions in the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which has prompted about the motivations behind the reopening. READ MORE

Fatemeh Ghaem-Maghami was ahead flight attendant in the state run Islamic Republic airlines. Five months after President Khatami came to power her body was found on Passdaran Avenue, close to an office of the ministry of intelligence. She had died of a bullet shot in her head. Her murder took place about the same time as those of dissidents Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, which were eventually attributed to agents of the ministry of intelligence. These and other murders of dissidents that took place in the late 1998s became known as ‘serial murders’ in Iran

Akbar Ganji, Iran's prominent investigative journalist was the first person to uncover Ghaem-Maghami's murder and view it as an act of government agents. He published his story in Sobh-e Emrouz newspaper. He threw light on the case while top intelligence officials were trying to present the case as an ordinary murder caused by family feuds. Similar attempts were made to cover up the murders of Pirooz Davani and Majid Sharif, both victims of the serial killings of the intelligence ministry. Following these two killings, influential intelligence officers had tried to limit the investigations over the murders to just four revealed cases of Parvaneh and Dariush Forouhar, Mohammad Mokhtari and Jafar Pouyandeh.

Akbar Ganji and Emadeddin Baghi were two investigative journalists who continued to uncover other cases of killings by intelligence agents by publishing their revelations in Sobh-e Emrouz. At the time, a number of senior government officials protested the revelations which had by then attracted public attention and remained in the limelight. Soon after the reactions to the suicide of Saeed Emami, a former deputy at the minister of intelligence and the person who has been charged with many of the killings of dissidents, a number of Iranian dailies were suspended, Ganji and Baghi were imprisoned and an unsuccessful assassination attempt by agents of the intelligence ministry left Hajjarian crippled for life. Hajjarian was himself a senior intelligence official and has been tipped to have been the informant for the revelations inside the intelligence community as he had become a supporter of reformist president Khatami and advocated democratic principles.

In the press investigations over the ‘serial killings’ 9 years ago, some journalists believed that Ghaem-Maghami was killed because she was privy to some of the illegal activities of the intelligence ministry and its agents. Ganji had specifically written that to understand who the mastermind behind the killings was one needed to investigate the murder of Siamak Sanjari and Ghaem-Maghami. “The murders were the problems of the mastermind, who at some point decided to get rid of them,” Ganji wrote. “Before responding to the questions about the serial killings, Mr. Fallahian (a former intelligence minister in Iran) had to respond to public questions about the murder of Ms Fatemeh Ghaem-Maghami and Siamak Sanjari.”

At the time of the serial murders, Zan publication wrote that Ghaem-Maghami's husband had been summoned to the committee that was investigating his wife's murder and had been banned from speaking to the press. He was warned that the murderers may flee the country if he talked to the media. Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of Hashemi Rafsanjani was editor-in-chief of Zan at the time and the publication was suspended on orders of the judiciary.

Nine years after murder of Ghaem-Maghami, division 1157 of the criminal court has a new judge, judge Zamani Alavijeh who has decided to re-open the controversial file.

It is said that he has ordered the special intelligence division of the police to investigate her murder and the murders of other women that appeared to be similar in circumstances between the years 1996 and 1997. The new judge may be looking for clues and similarities or connections in the murders. He is quoted as saying that 5 women were murdered during that period. The investigation that includes relatives, friends and those that had been in touch with the murdered women will start soon.

The news of reopening the controversial case has raised questions among political and judicial circles in Tehran. The timing of the decision raises questions about the motivations behind the reopening. It should be noted that some of those imprisoned in connection with the murders have since been freed and some have even been appointed to intelligence posts in Ahmadinejad’s government. The circumstances raise the question of whether the reopening is really the decision of a single judge or there others driving or directing the process.