Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Mehdi Dibaj

About

Nationality: Iran
Religion: Christianity
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Execution: July 5, 1994
Location: Iran
Mode of Execution: Stabbing (extrajudicial)

Human rights violations in this case

Extrajudicial killings


Since the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, national and international human rights organizations have blamed the Islamic Republic authorities for the extrajudicial killing of their opponents, both within and outside of Iran's borders. Although over two hundred cases have been reported, the exact number of victims remains unknown.

Extrajudicial executions carried out in Iran are rarely investigated; the few cases that have been investigated have indicated that the Iranian state security apparatus has been involved. Agents of the Islamic Republic have also targeted dissidents outside the country, assassinating opposition members in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and in the United States,.

In many assassination cases outside Iran, local authorities have made no arrests. However, investigations, when they have taken place and been made public, have led to the single hypothesis of State ordered crimes. The organization and execution of these crimes constitute a pattern that Swiss prosecutor Roland Chatelain describes as “common parameters” following a “meticulous preparation.” Similarities between different cases in different countries have created a coherent set of presumptions designating the Islamic Republic as the instigator of these assassinations.

 

In cases involving prominent Iranians assassinated in France, Germany, and Switzerland, local prosecutors have provided evidence linking Iranian authorities to the crimes in question.

 

In France, for example, the Iranian Deputy Minister of Telecommunications has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the 1991 murder of two dissidents. In Germany, agents of Iran's secret services and Lebanese Hezbollah have been convicted for the 1992 murder of four dissidents in Berlin. Currently, the Islamic Republic's Minister of Information and Security at the time of this murder is under an International arrest Warrant launched by German judicial authorities for his involvement.

 

The German court in Berlin found that Iran's political leadership ordered the murder through a "Committee for Special Operations," whose members reportedly include the Leader of the Islamic Republic, the President, the Minister of Information and Security, and other security officials.



The Islamic Republic’s officials have claimed responsibility for some of these assassinations while denying involvement in others. In the 1980s, Iranian authorities justified extrajudicial executions of dissidents and members of the former regime and actively worked for the release of Iranians and non-Iranian agents who were detained or convicted in the West for their involvement in those killings. During the 1990s, they systematically denied any involvement in extrajudicial killings and often credited the killings to infighting amongst the opposition.

 

Still, the rationale supporting these killings was articulated as early as in the spring of 1979 when the First Revolutionary religious judge publicly announced the regime's intention to carry out extrajudicial executions. He said:

 

“no state has the right to try as a terrorist the person who kills [exiles] in foreign lands, for this person is implementing the verdict issued by the Islamic Revolutionary tribunal.”

 

More than a decade later, in August, 1992, the Minister of Intelligence and Security publicly boasted about the success of Iran's security forces, alluding to the elimination of dissidents:

 

"We have been able to deal blows to many of the mini-groups outside the country and on the borders...."

Human rights violations

Based on the available information, the following human rights have been violated in this case:

    • The right to liberty and security of the person. The right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 9.1.

    • The right not to be punished for any crime on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time it was committed.

UDHR, Article 11.2; ICCPR, Article 15, Article 6.2.

    • The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to change and manifest his or her religion or belief.

UDHR, Article 18; ICCPR, Article 18.1, ICCPR, Article 18.2; Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Article 1 and Article 6.

In its general comment 22 (48) of 20 July 1993, the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee observed that the freedom to "have or to adopt" a religion or belief necessarily entailed the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one's current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views, as well as the right to retain one's religion or belief. Article 18, paragraph 2, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert.

    • The right, as a member of a religious or ethnic minority, to enjoy his or her own culture or to profess and practice his or her own religion.

UDHR, Article 18; ICCPR, Article 27.

    • The right to equality before the law and the right to equal protection of the law.

UDHR, Article 7; ICCPR, Article 26.

The right to due process

    • The right to be presumed innocent until found guilty by a competent and impartial tribunal in accordance with law.

ICCPR, Article 14.1 and Article 14.2.

Pre-trial detention rights

    • The right to know promptly and in detail the nature and cause of the charges against one.

UDHR, Article 9(2); ICCPR, Article 9.2 and Article 14.3.a

    • The right to counsel of one’s own choosing or the right to legal aid. The right to communicate with one’s own attorney in confidence

ICCPR, Article 14.3.b and Article 14.3.d; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 1, Article 2 Article 5, Article 6, Article 8.

    • The right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense case.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.b.

    • The right not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess to guilt.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.g.

    • The right not to be subjected to torture and to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.

Trial rights

    • The right to a fair and public trial without undue delay.

ICCPR, Article 14.1, Article 14.3.c.

    • The right to defense through an attorney or legal aid. The right to examine, or have examined, the witnesses against one, and the right to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on one’s behalf under the same conditions as prosecution witnesses.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.d and Article 14.3.e.

    • The right to have the decision rendered in public.

ICCPR, Article 14.1.

Judgment rights

    • The right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction.

ICCPR, Article 14.5.

    • The right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence.

ICCPR, Article 6.4.

Capital punishment
    • The inherent right to life, of which no one shall be arbitrarily deprived.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6.1; Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, Article 1.1, Article 1.2.

    • The right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.

About this Case

A convert to Christianity decades prior, Pastor Mehdi Dibaj denied the charge of apostasy against him, comparing his own belief in eternal life to those of devout Muslims.

Information about the extrajudicial killing of Pastor Mehdi Dibaj is drawn from a report by Amnesty International published in 1995 and his defense before the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal of Sari posted on the internet (farsinet.com). "Amnesty International includes in its definition of extrajudicial executions the killing of specific individuals which can be reasonably assumed to be the result of government policy at any level."

The Iranian government denied any implication in the victim's death and accused an opposition organization of the crime. The leadership of this organization denied any implication in this killing for which it blamed "the government."

According to Amnesty's report,and following the deaths of several church leaders, other clergy were reportedly put under pressure by the authorities to state publicly on television and radio that an opposition group was responsible for the killings. A few of them refused and managed to leave the country secretly for fear of reprisals.

Arrest and detention

Pastor Mehdi Dibaj was arrested in 1984 and detained in Sari Prison in Mazandaran until January 1994. During this time, he allegedly spent two years in solitary confinement. Amnesty International considered Pastor Dibaj to be a prisoner of conscience and repeatedly called for his immediate and unconditional release.

Trial

In December 1993, he was tried by the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal of Sari and given 20 days of appeal against the sentence.

Charges

The defendant was charged with apostasy, reportedly because of his conversion from Islam to Christianity some 45 years earlier.

Evidence of guilt

The defendant did not deny his conversion to Christianity.

Defense

In his defense, Pastor Dibaj dismissed the charge of apostasy in the following terms: "I have been charged with 'apostasy'!” The invisible God who knows our hearts has given assurance to us—as Christians—that we are not among the apostates who will perish but among the believers who will have eternal life. In Islamic Law (Shari'a), an apostate is one who does not believe in God, the prophets, or the resurrection of the dead. We Christians believe in all three! They say, 'You were a Muslim and you have become a Christian.' This is not so. For many years, I had no religion. After searching and studying, I accepted God's call and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to receive eternal life."

Judgment

The defendant was sentenced to death by the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal of Sari. Although he was released on January 16, 1994, due to international pressure, the charges against him were reportedly not dropped. On July 5, 1994, he was found dead in suspicious circumstances. On the same day the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted a police official's statement that "while conducting investigations into the death of Pastor Michaelian [another slain Christian leader] who had disappeared last week, we found an unidentified body later identified by relatives as the body of Dibaj. He had reportedly not been seen since 24 June 1994." Pastor Dibaj's corpse was found in the refrigerator of Pastor Michaelian's house. According to Elam, a protestant missionary organization that supports Iran's Christians, Pastor Dibaj was stabbed to death (http://www.elam.com/articles/Remember-Their-Sacrifice/).

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