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Story Publication logo December 28, 2009

Mousavi Supporters Say Iran Ordered Murder of His Nephew


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After a hotly contested presidential election that resulted in street riots and a disputed claim to...


Reproduced with permission from The Christian Science Monitor.

A spokesman for Mir Hossein Mousavi, the head of Iran's opposition "Green Movement," blamed the Islamic Republic for the killing of the former presidential candidate's nephew on Sunday. The spokesman alleged it was a targeted assassination.

Seyd Ali Mousavi, the nephew, was shot through the heart, according to Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a political spokesman for Mr. Mousavi who lives in exile in Paris. He said that Mr. Mousavi had been threatened before his murder to cease his political activities.

"The style of his killing was assassination rather than just a chance shooting in the middle of a protest," says Delbar Tavakoli, an exiled Iranian journalist living in Turkey. "A car goes to his house, five men get out and shoot him in the stomach from close up."

State media reported that authorities were carrying out forensic tests on his and four other bodies, preventing them from being buried within 24 hours as is customary in Islamic tradition.

The bodies were "retained in order to complete forensic and police examinations and find more leads on this suspicious incident," the official IRNA news agency reported.

Another government-aligned news agency, Fars News, opined that the incident was "suspicious" and suggested that the murder might have been carried out by foreign intelligence operation aimed at sowing internal discord. Similar claims were made in the official press after the murder of Neda Agha Soltan in June.

The Mousavi family earlier said that their relative's body was removed from Tehran's Ibn Sina hospital where it was being held after opposition supporters clashed with a strong police presence outside the hospital yesterday evening.

"This is huge in the sense that Mousavi's nephew's death will get more attention because he was very active," said Mehdi Noorbakhsh, an associate professor of international affairs at Pennsylvania's Harrisburg University. "From what we know, they targeted him perhaps in order to put more pressure on Mousavi to give up. It was a threat that, if you don't give up, that is the price you have to pay."

The Islamic Republic has a long history of using family members to put psychological pressure on political prisoners. Former prisoners have said their parents or siblings were brought into adjoining interrogation cells to be tortured within earshot as a means of breaking them.

"They're looking to arrest Mousavi," said Roohollah Shahsavar, a student leader who campaigned on behalf of Mousavi in the northeastern province of Khorasan and knows him personally. "They want him to show a reaction so they can have a pretext to arrest him."

"Mousavi is a cool operator, I can't see him getting thrown off course by something like this," says Djavad Salehi-Esfahani, a professor of economics at Virginia Tech and Brookings Institution scholar who just returned from Iran. "He'll use it to argue for calm."

"This was a strike against Mousavi and this becomes clear by the fact that the Fars News Agency immediately published an explanation of what happened which is reminiscent (in) its conspiracy theorizing" of the explanations for Ms. Soltan's death, adds Tavakoli. "It was as if someone breaks a glass, then denies they did it before anyone has even asked why the glass broke."

Tehran was subdued on Monday, according to one observer. "Tehran remained silent in a very strange way," said the Iranian, who wanted to remain anonymous out of concern for safety. "There was no traffic in most crowded places. People were shocked. I haven't heard nor seen any [protesters] or militia anywhere today. Anti-riot [forces] stayed in a few famous squares and there were clashes in Haft-e Tir Square."

Mr. Makhmalbaf claimed on his website that the large number of arrests carried out Sunday night by the Ministry of Intelligence was a byproduct of an internal split in the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC). More than 1.000 people were arrested, according to the state news agency IRNA, including high-profile journalists, human rights and women's activists, relatives of those killed Sunday, and reformist politicians. "The IRGC blamed the Intelligence Ministry for not giving them accurate statistics on how many protesters were expected to turn out for Ashura," said Makhmalbaf on his website.

Yesterday's confrontation between the IRGC and the Intelligence Ministry was such, Makhmalbaf charged, that it forced the latter to put into action a program of arresting immediate colleagues of Mousavi and former President Mohammad Khatami that was not scheduled for another three months.

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