Chain Murders of Iran

The Chain Murders of Iran (قتلهای زنجیره ای), or Serial Murders, were a series of murders and disappearances from 1988 to 1998 by Iranian government operatives of Iranian dissident intellectuals who had been critical of the Islamic Republic system in some way.

The victims included more than 80 writers, translators, poets, political activists, and ordinary citizens, and were killed by a variety of means—car crashes, stabbings, shootings in staged robberies, injections with potassium to simulate a heart attack—in what some believe was an attempt to avoid connection between them. The pattern of murders did not come to light until late 1998 when Dariush Forouhar, his wife and three dissident writers were murdered in the span of two months.

Responsibility for the murders is disputed. After the murders were publicized Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei denied the government was at all responsible and blamed "Iran's enemies". In mid-1999, after great public outcry and journalistic investigation in Iran and publicity abroad, Iranian prosecutors announced they had found the perpetrator. One Saeed Emami had led "rogue elements" in Iran's intelligence ministry in the killings, but that Emami was now dead, having committed suicide in prison. In a trial that was "dismissed as a sham by the victims' families and international human rights organisations," three intelligence ministry agents were sentenced in 2001 to death and 12 others to prison terms for murdering two of the victims.

Many Iranians and foreigners believe the killings were at least in part an attempt to resist "cultural and political openness" being attempted by reformist Iranian president Mohammad Khatami and his supporters, and that those convicted of the killings were actually "scapegoats acting on orders from higher" up, with the ultimate perpetrators including "a few well known clerics." In turn, Iran's hardliners — the group most closely associated with vigilante attacks on dissidents in general, and with the accused killers in particular — claimed foreign powers, including Israel, had committed the crimes.

The murders are said to be "still shrouded in secrecy, and an indication that the authorities may not have uncovered all perpetrators of the chain murders was the attempted assassination of Saeed Hajjarian, a newspaper editor who is thought to have played a "key role" in uncovering the killings. On 12 March 2000, Hajjarian was shot in the head and left paralyzed for life.

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