Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

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

Habib Elqanian


Age: 69
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Judaism
Civil Status: Married


Date of Killing: May 9, 1979
Location of Killing: Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Shooting
Charges: Treason; Religious offense; Espionage; Unspecified anti-revolutionary offense; Working with or for a foreign power; Fighting against the revolution/blocking the path of God; Corruption on earth; Association with the Shah's idolatrous regime

About this Case

Iran’s first plastic factory was among his early enterprises.  He was proud, he told a tribunal, to be an Iranian Jew.

The execution of Mr. Habib Elqanian, along with 5 other individuals, was reported in the Kayhan newspaper on May 9, 1979. Mr. Elqanian is also one of the 438 victims listed in an Amnesty International report dated March 13, 1980. The report lists defendants who were convicted by Revolutionary Tribunals in the period from their inception until 12 August 1979. The list of victims and charges is drawn from sources including translations of indictments, reports of trials carried out by local and foreign media and the bulletins of the official Pars News Agency reports. Further information has been drawn from an interview with a an individual familiar with this case, the indictment, Mr. Elqanian’s will (May 8, 1979), the memoranda of the Central Prosecutor’s Office to the Expropriation Foundation (Bonyad-e Mostaz’afin, May 16, 1979; July 14, 1980), The Jerusalem Post (May 10, 1979) and an electronic form sent to Omid by a person familiar with this case.

Mr. Elqanian, having finished his higher education in France, returned to Iran to start his own import-export business. He founded the first plastic company in Iran, Plasco, and owned aluminum and refrigerator factories as well (Jerusalem Post). Before the 1979 Revolution, Mr. Elqanian was arrested and released (interview).

Arrest and detention

The exact circumstances of Mr. Elhaqian arrest and detention are not known. Mr. Elqanian was arrested on February 16, 1979 (Kayhan), soon after he returned to Iran after a trip to the United States of America to visit his family there (Jerusalem Post).


Based on the Kayhan report, Mr. Elqanian was tried at Branch 3 of the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal on May 8, 1979. The trial session started in the afternoon and ended at 10:30 p.m. The trial reportedly lasted for 7 to 10 minutes (interview).


The following charges were brought against Mr. Elqanian in the indictment:

“1. Friendship with the enemies of God; hostility towards the friends of God“2. Espionage for Israel, the Zionist usurper“3. Collecting funds for the support and aid of Israel and its usurper army, which bombs the defenseless Muslim people of Palestine everyday“4. Spending funds and benefits, which have been derived from the exploitation of Iranians to construct belligerent usurper Israel, which is against Islam and God“5. Corruption on earth in the form of destroying society’s human resources“6. Fighting against God, his Prophet, the Representative of the Twelfth Imam, and against our disinherited people“7. Obstructing the way of God and the way towards happiness for all the disinherited people in the world; Obstructing Islamic and human values“8. Corruption on earth“9. Contributing to the cruel daily massacre of [the] valiant people of Palestine.”

The validity of the criminal charges brought against this defendant cannot be ascertained in the absence of the basic guarantees of a fair trial. Amnesty International notes that the case against Mr. Elqanian “is the only instance known to Amnesty International of a non-Muslim being charged with a Qur’an offence. Part Three of the indictment against him reads: ‘Taking into consideration [the text of parts one and two of the indictment] and applying specified and unspecified verses of the Holy Qur’an... and other words transmitted by the Tradition of the saints it is requested that the defendant be sentenced to death and that his property and that of his family be confiscated’.”

Evidence of guilt

The indictment lists the following “proofs of guilt:”“1. Confessions, some of a specific character and others circumstantial, as set out in the case file“2. Evidence, including documents and other proof of actions undertaken by the defendant, showing that he sent money to Israel to strengthen its defense capability“3. Organizing a meeting with leaders of the Zionist state such as Moshe Dayan and Abba Eban and other usurpers, all of whom are the cruelest enemies of God and the Palestinian people“4. The purchase of property and high-rise buildings. ”

Following Mr. Elqanian’s defense (see below), the Prosecutor’s representative defended the indictment, which, he stressed, was based on reports by unnamed SAVAK agents (known as Tuesday and Wednesday) and on the statements of the accused during the interrogation. The reports concerned the purchase of a piece of land near Tel Aviv in 1970 and a meeting with Moshe Dayan and Abba Eban in 1973, during which Mr. Elqanian allegedly committed to encouraging more Iranian financial aid and Jewish immigration to Israel. During the court session, he stated:

“I ask you ‘if you opposed the Zionism, in what way did you express your opposition in order to inform your fellow Jews?’ We rely on the report of SAVAK, the most important security entity that collaborated with the CIA. One SAVAK report states that you have paid a million dollars for a piece of land in Tel Aviv, the value of which has appreciated, and the report confirms this. Another SAVAK report refers to your under-construction skyscraper, which is three time taller than the Plasco building… Tuesday (a SAVAK agent) refers to the meeting between Moshe Dayan and Abba Eban and other Israeli officials, in which financial assistance to Jews was discussed, Tuesday states that Elqanian felt Israel was his country and Wednesday (another SAVAK agent) confirms that you did not love Iran and wanted to immigrate to Israel.

“Mr. Elqanian, considering these reports that are recorded in your file, the reason for your connection with Israel is financial aid; while Israel’s position is clear for the whole world, did you not know that your relations with Israel violate the oppressed people’s rights? You have confessed that through importing American products, you have opened the way for economic gain of America and Zionist Israel in this country. Unfortunately the previous regime attempted to create a consumerist nation through greed. I ask the court to consider the evidence and rule in accordance with religious principles” (quoted in Kayhan).

The Defense

Kayhan reported the statements of Mr. Elqanian who spoke in his own defense as he was denied the right to have an attorney. He stated: “Respectfully, I am proud to be an Iranian Jew. I oppose Zionist Israel… God forbid I ever spy for Israel, I have never and will never do so. I oppose the killing of the Palestinian people… I’m proud to have shared in Plasco Melamin, North Plastic, North Pipe, General Electric refrigerator factory, and Profile Aluminum.” The newspaper report does not refer to Mr. Elqanian’s defense after having heard the Prosecutor’s statements, or whether he was given such opportunity.

According to the interviewee, Mr. Elqanian did not own any property in Israel in his name. The Kayhan does not refer to the opportunity for Mr. Elqanian to address to the evidence provided against him and the questioning of the prosecutor.

The Judgment

The judges of the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal issued the erdict around midnight, after one and a half hour of deliberation, following the trial of six defendants, which started at dawn on the same date. The Tribunal sentenced Mr. Elqanian to death for “causing corruption” and “betraying his fellow countrymen by being in touch with Israel and Zionists. His belongings, and those of his nuclear family was confiscated as expropriated properties.” Mr. Habib Elqanian was shot by a firing squad in Tehran on May 9, 1979, one hour after the judgment was issued. The authorities warned his family against holding Jewish memorial ceremonies.

In his will, Mr. Elqanian provided guidance concerning his business, debts, and credits, including paying his employees the elapsed salaries. He said goodbye to his family and asked them to pray for him. He also remembered his employees and asked his family to forward his greetings to them.

The Central Revolutionary Prosecutor issued an order to the Expropriation Foundation (May 16, 1979) stating: “Pursuant to this decree, expropriate all belongings and properties of the companies of Habibollah Elqanian and his family, according to the court ruling; and the assume complete supervision of the belongings, properties, and shares of the companies of his son[s]-in-law, and daughter[s]-in-law and grandchildren and brothers and sisters and their children; and administration of all affairs and collection of all rentals for buildings belonging to them shall be carried out under the Foundation’s direction; and to prepare a list of all their removable and immovable belongings and forward it to the Central Prosecutor.”

According to the memorandum of the Central Revolutionary Prosecutor to the Expropriation Foundation (July 14, 1980), “all the properties of Habib Elqanian and [5 family members] and the properties of their wives and children have been reclaimed. It is, further, mentioned that anyone who, via these persons, misused the Muslims’ properties and accumulated wealth is entitle of this order.”

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