Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

https://www.iranrights.org
Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Shapur Bakhtiar

About

Age: 76
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Shi'a)
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Killing: August 6, 1991
Location of Killing: Suresne, France
Mode of Killing: Stabbing
Charges: Treason; Plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic

About this Case

He saw the slenderest of possibilities for democracy in Iran and agreed to step forward.   In his just over 5 weeks as prime minister, politics and governance were transformed, political prisoners were freed along with the press, and then came the tide.

Background information

The feud between former Prime Minister Shapur Bakhtiar and the Islamic Republic's authorities can be traced back to the early days of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. A lawyer and pro-democracy advocate with social democratic leanings, Mr. Bakhtiar had been one of the leaders of the liberal, pro-Mossadeq opposition to the late Shah's dictatorship. During the revolutionary turmoil of 1978, the Shah, among other moderate opposition figures, called upon Mr. Bakhtiar to accept the post of Prime Minister. Bakhtiar accepted the Shah's nomination, because he believed that, to be successful, the transition to democracy required the restoration of the rule of law and democratic rights. While in office (January 3 to February 11, 1979), he dissolved the political police (SAVAK), freed all political prisoners, granted freedom of the press, and abolished censorship. He warned the nation against the rise of a new dictatorship and conjured the Iranians to form political parties and trade unions and to prepare for elections.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the revolutionary leader of Iran's popular movement, who advocated a theocracy, dismissed Bakhtiar's effort to establish democratic rule and called upon the people to rebel against his government. On February 11th, 1979, Bakhtiar's government was toppled by a popular insurrection.

Bakhtiar went into hiding in Iran for six months and then fled to France (July 1979), where he declared his opposition to the newly established Islamic regime and began to advocate for the establishment of a democratic regime. During the same period, in Iran, a group of civilians and active army officers organized into a group named Neghab. They declared their concern about the consolidation of a new dictatorship in Iran, and pledged allegiance to Bakhtiar as the true follower of Mossadeq's path and a pro-democracy leader. On July 7th, 1980, the Iranian authorities claimed to have dismantled a civil and military network of Bakhtiar's supporters, who were accused of plotting to overthrow the Islamic regime. During the following months, over one hundred people were executed for their alleged membership of Neghab and pro-Bakhtiar sympathy.

The assassination documented below was the second attempt on Bakhtiar's life. In 1980, the Islamic Republic dispatched a commando unit led by a Lebanese national, Anis Naccache, to plan and carry out the assassination of Bakhtiar in his apartment in a suburban neighborhood of Paris. However; the assassination attempt failed and Bakhtiar escaped death. The commando unit, which carried out the attack on July 18, shot to death a policeman and a female neighbor. A second policeman was paralyzed for life. The members of the commando unit were arrested, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment (March 10 1982).

In 1986, a wave of deadly bombings took place in Paris (department stores, a post office, a police station, etc.). Communiqués claiming responsibility for the bombings, sent to a news agency in Lebanon, demanded the release of Naccache and his accomplices. Eventually Naccache and his accomplices were pardoned by President Francois Mitterand (July 27, 1990), and they left for Iran.

About this Case

Information about the extrajudicial killing of Mr. Shapur Bakhtiar was drawn from the report of Jean Louis Bruguière, the French investigative Judge in charge of the case, the French State Attorney's requisitoire (indictment), and the French and international media reports (Le Monde, Liberation, l'Express, Le Firgaro, Yediote Aharonoth, and US News and World Report).

On August 6, 1991, more than 10 years after the failed attempt by the Naccache Commando unit, Shapur Bakhtiar was assassinated, along with his personal secretary, Sorush Katibeh, in a house located in Suresne (a small town in the outskirts of Paris) and heavily guarded by French security forces. That day, Bakhtiar had a scheduled meeting with three men, including a member of his own organization. The latter (Fereidun Boyer Ahmadi), recruited by Iran's intelligence services, was accompanied by two men, Ali Vakili Rad and Mohammad Azadi, reported to be members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps. The terrorist commando unit was able to leave the house and eventually the country. Though police were present on the site before, during, and after the crime was committed, French authorities announced having discovered the victims' slain bodies 36 hours after their murder. On August 21st, 1991, one of the assassins, Ali Vakili Rad, was arrested in Geneva. His accomplices fled in unclear circumstances.

The Iranian regime denied any involvement in the assassinations; however, the investigation led by the French investigative judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière, documented the Iranian authorities' involvement. According to Judge Bruguière's report, in August 1991, the American and British Governments intercepted and decoded messages sent by the Iranian Ministry of Information to Europe. On Wednesday, August 7th, twenty-four hours before Bakhtiar's and Katibeh's bodies were discovered, this ministry was asking for confirmation of their death (L'Express, August 22 1991). This information was substantiated by persisting rumors concerning Mr. Bakhtiar's death, circulating in Shiraz, before his body was discovered in France.

Furthermore, the investigation led to the indictment of a number of people linked to the Iranian government, including Mas'ud Hendi, a relative of Ayatollah Khomeini, and a former representative for Iranian State Television in Paris. Together with a member of the Ministry of Telecommunications, he had assisted in obtaining entry visas to France for the killers under the guise of electronic technicians. The name of Mas'ud Hendi had appeared previously in the investigations concerning the murder of another Iranian exile in Paris, General Oveissi. The analysis of phone calls made by Vakili and Azadi led to an Iranian-born Turk, Edipsoy, who falsified Turkish passports for the killers. Before and after the murder of Bakhtiar, two Iranians involved in the plot made several phone calls to Iran's Telecommunications Ministry from Edipsoy's apartment. The above-mentioned Tehran phone number is known to have been used by the Iranian Secret Service and by members of the assassins' support team in Geneva (Liberation, September 20, 1991).

The other person charged, Fereshteh Djahanbani, had rented an apartment in which Boyer Ahmadi, one of the killers, found refuge after the crime. She admitted to collaborating with Iran's Intelligence Agency VEVAK. The police found codes, a special pen, and invisible ink in her apartment. She identified Amirolah Teimoury, chief of security at Iran Air in the Orly Airport (Paris), as her superior. Teimoury was prosecuted for intelligence activities for a foreign power (Liberation, October 25, 1991). Another individual charged and extradited to France, Zia Sarhadi, had made hotel reservations in Switzerland for the killers. Sarhadi arrived in Switzerland on August 13, 1991, allegedly, to work as an archivist in the Iranian embassy in Bern. According to Judge Bruguière, his mission was to help Bakhtiar's murderers escape. Sarhadi's order of mission was issued on July 16, 1991, on the authority of Ali Akbar Velayati, the Iranian Foreign Minister (Le Monde, February 26, 1992). Two other Iranians, arrested in Istanbul for having provided forged identity papers to the killers, were also said to belong to the Iranian Special Services (Liberation, October 4, 1991).

On October 22, 1991, Judge Bruguière launched an international arrest warrant for Hossein Sheikh'atar for “collusion in murder, conspiracy, and violation of the law in relation to a terrorist action” (Le Monde, October 26, 1991). Sheikh'atar was the technical adviser for the Satellite Communication Program to the Iranian Ministry of Telecommunications. This Ministry is known for its close connections to Iranian Special Services. Bruguière issued two other arrest warrants on April 21, 1993, against two other Iranian officials. The first, Gholam Hossein Shurideh Chirazi Nejad, already known in business circles, had asked Comatra, a Swiss firm, to invite a ‘friend.’ The ‘friend’ was in fact one of the killers who had obtained a visa to enter Switzerland. The other suspect, Nasser Qasemi-Nejad, an official of the Secret Services, had awaited the assassins in Geneva in order to send them back to Iran (Le Figaro, 22 April 1993).

The French President, François Mitterand, acknowledged the involvement of Tehran's Islamic regime and cancelled his visit to Tehran scheduled for the fall of 1991 (Interview with Yediote Aharonoth , November 20, 1992).

Three of the accused were tried by the Special Criminal Court of Paris (la Cour d’Assises Speciales) from November 2 through December 6, 1994. The Court found Ali Vakili-Rad guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Mas'ud Hendi, Khomeini's relative and the employee of the Iranian State Television was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for his role as an accomplice of the terrorist conspiracy. In May 2010, Vakili-Rad obtained a conditional release and left for Iran, where he was greeted at his arrival in Tehran’s airport by officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His conditional release was reportedly linked to the case of Clotilde Reiss, an academic arrested in Iran in 2009 and charged with espionage, who arrived in France two days before Vakili-Rad’s release.

As for Gholam Hossein Shurideh Shirazi Nejad and Hossein Sheikh'atar, the adviser to the Iranian Ministry of Telecommunications, Nasser Qasemi-Nejad, Fereidun Boyer Ahmadi and Mohammad Azadi, an officer of the Revolutionary Guards, they were all tried in absentia, found guilty, and sentenced to life on June 16, 1995.

Arrest and detention

The victim was not arrested.

Trial

The victim was not summoned before a court and no public trial was held in his case.

Charges

In the months following the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Iran's new authorities announced the charges against Shapur Bakhtiar on several occasions.

In a speech delivered on May 16th, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini charged Shapur Bakhtiar with "treason."

On December 7th, 1979, Ayatollah Khalkhali, one of the first religious judges appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini, charged Mr. Bakhtiar with "actively opposing Ayatollah Khomeini from his exile in Paris."

Evidence of guilt

Four days after Mr. Bakhtiar was charged with treason, in another speech, Ayatollah Khomeini elaborated on the accusation in the following terms: "This man was a fool, I advised him (to join the revolutionary movement), and had he listened to me he would be Prime Minister now. I advised him when I was in Paris that now that the Shah is gone and you have obtained something (the Shah's departure), come and say that you did this to serve the people, and say that you put yourself at the disposal of the people. Had he done it, he would be a hero. He did not understand what he should do." Ayatollah Khomeini was alluding to the resignation he had required from Mr. Bakhtiar after the monarch's departure. Refusing to resign and submit to the will of Ayatollah Khomeini may have been the evidence of guilt.

Defense

Mr. Bakhtiar was not given the opportunity to defend himself before being assassinated; however, he had on several occasions explained why he refused to resign. By accepting the post of Prime Minister, Bakhtiar argued, he had committed to organize the political transition under the rule of law. He refused to submit to the will of street demonstrators, since Khomeini's leadership was established after several mass demonstrations in his favor, and the Ayatollah drew his legitimacy from these demonstrations. Street demonstrations, Bakhtiar contended, could not replace democratic ballots. Bakhtiar, though acknowledging Khomeini's leadership of the movement, did not see under what title he [Khomeini] could demand and accept a prime minister’s resignation. For Bakhtiar, Khomeini had to win a free and fair election to acquire legal and democratic legitimacy. He invited Khomeini to campaign and win the election, whose free and fair character he, as an interim prime minister, would guarantee. Refusing to resign, Bakhtiar argued, was not treason, but an act of resistance against the rise of a new tyranny.

Judgment

Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced Shapur Bakhtiar to death during a public speech, on May 16th, 1979. Two days earlier, in an interview with the newspaper Kayhan, Ayatollah Khalkhali had referred to the existence of a death sentence against Mr. Shapur Bakhtiar and claimed the right for the Islamic Republic to implement the sentence anywhere in the world. It is not known if there has been another death sentence issued later by Ayatollah Khomeini's successor. The sentence was implemented in Shapur Bakhtiar's house in Suresnes, a small town near Paris. The victim was stabbed to death. 

Correct/ Complete This Entry