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

Mohammad Rabi'i

About

Age: 64
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Sunni)
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Killing: December 2, 1996
Location of Killing: Kermanshah, Kermanshah Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Extrajudicial killing
Charges: Unknown charge

About this Case

Mr. Molla Mohammad Rabi’i (Mamusta Rabi’i,) Sunni Muslim and Friday Prayer leader of the city of Kermanshah, was a victim of a series of political murders that came to be known as the “Serial Murders.”  He was a “Mufti” (an expounder and interpreter of Islamic laws in Sunni Islam who has the authority to issue “Fatwas” or religious rulings) of the Shafe’i branch of Islam, Information regarding his life, activities, and murder, were gathered from numerous sources including the weblog of his works, Jomhuri Eslami daily newspaper (December 1996), his wife’s interview with Roozonline (December 26, 2011) and the internet websites of the Biography of Sunni Luminaries, Sunni News, Maktabe Kor’an (Kor’an School,) from the book  “The Tragedy of Democracy in Iran”  by Emadoddin Baqi, and the United Nations Special Representative’s Report of January 18, 2000.

Biography

Mr. Mohammad Rabi’i was born in 1311 (1932-33) in the village of Darasb, city of Divandarreh, Kurdistan Province. He pursued his religious studies with teachers in various regions of Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan, and was granted the right to issue “Fatwas” and teach theology in 1343 (1964-65.) In 1345 (1966-67,) representing Iran, he won second place in a Qur’an recitation contest. Upon returning to Iran, he was put in charge of a radio program conducted in Kurdish. He also taught the Qur’an and its correct recitation, pronunciation, and intonation, in the Ardebilis  school and the Emadoddoleh  mosque. In 1351 (1972-73) he became the Friday prayer leader of city of Kermanshah’s Shafe’i Mosque. He was considered a major religious figure of the Shafe’i sect in Kurdistan. In the fall of 1978, at the request of the people of Kermanshah, Mr. Rabi’i became the Friday Prayer leader as well as the orator of Kermanshah’s Shafe’i Mosque. Mr. Rabi’i was married and had two sons and a daughter. (Website of Molla Rabi’is Life and Works, website of the Biography of Sunni Luminaries)

Professional Life

Mr. Rabi’i was fluent in Farsi, Kurdish, and Arabic. He had a pleasant voice and in the holy month of Ramadan, his recitation of the Qur’an and other religious prayers were broadcast on the radio as well as in Kermanshah mosques. He has numerous works in Kurdish, Farsi, and Arabic, including  “Baqiat Al-Salehat”  which is the complete laws of the Shafe’i school of Islam. Other works include “Hasht Ordibehesht,” “Hazrat Osman,” “Dokandaran-e Tariqat” (“Merchants of Faith,”) “Alijenab Guril” (“His Highness the Gorilla”) (a novel) and a collection of poems containing four thousand couplets. (Biography of Sunni Luminaries)

According to his wife, Mr. Rabi’i loved people and his country Iran, and strongly believed in raising awareness in the youth and in [advocating] unity between the Shi’a and Sunni sects. (Roozonline, December 26, 2011) His mastery of current events and scientific advances, as well as his persuasive words, had resulted in great unity among the Sunni population of the region, particularly in Kermanshah; Sunnis from all over and even certain Shi’as would come to him for advice and for the resolution of their [religious] issues. During his tenure as Friday Prayer leader in Kermanshah, a large number of people had started to attend the Imam Shafe’i Mosque. He was a close friend and associate of Allameh Ahmad Moftizadeh* in the early period of the Revolution and was a member of a group of Sunni representatives in the talks conducted with Ayatollah Taleqani and his delegation. (Website of Molla Rabi’I’s Works)

The Shafe’i Sect

 “Shafe’i is a branch of Sunni Islam that follows the teachings of Abu Abdollah Mohammad Edriss Shafe’i, one of the four Imams of Sunnat and Jama’at. The Shafe’i sect is the third oldest religion of Sunni Islam and follows [the teachings and the traditions of the Prophet] Mohammad and [his successors] Abu Bakr, Omar, Osman, and Ali [the Four Caliphs.] Mamusta is a title given to religious scholars in Kurdistan.

Short background on the “Chain Murders”

“Chain Murders” refers to a set of disappearances and extra-judicial killings of writers and political dissidents which mainly occurred in the 1990’s. In January 1999, the Ministry of Intelligence published an announcement in which it squarely put the blame for four such killings (those of Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar, Mohammad Mokhtari, and Mohammad Ja’far Puyandeh) on rogue elements within the Ministry, without providing any explanation as to the causes and manner of killing of tens of [other] dissidents and writers. A number of the Ministry of Intelligence agents were arrested and charged with the above-mentioned four persons’ murders. On June 20, 1999, it was announced that the primary suspect, Sa’id Emami, had committed suicide in prison. According to the victims’ lawyers, numerous pages of Emami’s confession had been deleted from the Serial Murders file. Based on independent research and the confessions of [a number of] the accused, however, the elimination of dissidents - the magnitude of which is still not clear was the official policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Ministry of Information for over a decade.

Mr. Rabi’i’s name has repeatedly been mentioned as a victim of Serial Murders in the print media during the years 1998 to 2002. Also, the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s report of January 18, 2000, mentions the killing of Sunni clerics.  “[t]here were demands that the investigation be broadened to include many other suspicious deaths going back to 1994… [involving] 50 or more unexplained deaths in recent years. Included were the 1994 deaths of three Christian ministers which had been officially attributed to the Mujahedin, the deaths of Sunni community leaders, and the deaths of dissidents in bombings in Europe”.(UN Special Representative Report, E/CN.4/2000/35, January 18, 2000)

The Assassination

On Sunday, December 2, 1996, Mr. Mohammad Rabi’i left his house at 12:30 P.M to go to work at the Kermanshah Radio and Television Station and never returned. His body was found around 1:00 A.M. near the [city of] Sanandaj-Tehran [bus] terminal, lying next to his car, his turban under his head, his glasses and “aba” (traditional cloak worn by clerics) on his chest; the body had been placed facing Mecca [where Muslims face to say their daily as well as other Islamic prayers; the dying and the dead are also placed facing Mecca.] (Roozonline, December 26, 2011)

Protesting Mr. Rabi’i’s murder, his followers organized demonstrations on the day of his burial, December 3, which resulted in anti-riot and military units intervening, leading to violence which eventually spread to other Kurdish towns. Several Kurdish towns were closed down for a few days. Many of the protestors were injured and many others, arrested. A police officer and a young college student were shot dead in Kermanshah and in the town of Ravansar, respectively. (Jomhuri Eslami newspaper, December 7, 1996 and December 16,1996, Website of Molla Rabi’i’s works, Sa’id Emami’s speech in Hamedan University, “The Tragedy of Democracy”, page 273)

Officials’ Reaction

The authorities never officially accepted responsibility for the murder. Subsequent to Mr. Rabi’i’s murder, the agents transferred the body to the Medical Examiner’s office for an autopsy, without his family’s consent and before they could see the body. Within a few short hours, the cause of death was announced as heart attack, and the family was pressured into signing the autopsy report. Further, the family was not allowed to have funeral ceremonies and mourning rituals at the gravesite. (Roozonline, December 26, 2011)

Subsequent to the family’s refusal to confirm the security forces’ determination of the cause of death as heart attack, and after widespread popular demonstrations in various towns in the province [of Kurdistan], 15 well-known Sunni leaders issued an announcement, reportedly under pressure from the security forces. The announcement stated in part:  “Subsequent to [careful and] scrupulous investigations into the late Mollah Mohammad Rabi’i’s cause of death, it has been determined conclusively that, although his passing was a blow to Islam, it was, however, a natural death (heart failure) and there is no doubt or uncertainty in this regard.”  (Jomhuri Eslami, December 16, 1996)

A short time after Mr. Rabi’i’s murder, Sa’id Emami, one of the main suspects of the Serial Murders, stated in a speech given at Hamedan University, that the popular demonstrations after his death were a result of “instigations by the supporters of the School of Qur’an, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Wahabi’s.” (“The Tragedy of Democracy”, page 273)

According to Mr. Rabi’i’s wife, after the Serial Murders were exposed, his family’s numerous efforts and follow-ups with the office of the President and Mr. Shushtari, (the then-Minister of Justice) to have his murder investigated as part of the Serial Murders, bore no fruit.

The Family’s Statements

Mr. Rabi’i’s family who have sought remedies within the framework of the Islamic Republic, believe that they have been denied justice. They have called the public’s attention to fundamental contradictions in the officials’ statements, denial of access to evidence, and lack of judicial attention to and investigation of the case, in spite of persistent follow ups. 

According to Mr. Rabi’i’s wife, the Information Ministry continually put Mr. Rabi’i under pressure. Every 10-15 days, a security agent named Daneshi would take him to Information offices for questioning. One of these interrogation sessions had particularly caused him to worry. He had been transferred, according to him, to a basement in the historical site of Bisotun, and upon returning home, he had told his wife:  “God was with me today and I’m still alive. I had never shivered in fear before, but I did today. They didn’t take me to the Information offices, but to the outskirts of town, to a basement near Bisotun. As soon as they put me in a car, they drew the curtains [inside the car] and took me away and started asking me very strange questions. I really thought I would not get out alive this time.”   (Interview with Roozonline, December 26, 2011)

Mamusta Rabi’i’s wife refers to demonstrations that broke out in November 1996 in predominantly Sunni regions, in protest of the television series  “Imam Ali.”  ** As the Sunni Friday Prayer leader, Mr. Rabi’i had written a letter to officials of the ministries of Information and Education and a number of others, warning against the consequences of fomenting divisions among the Shi’a and the Sunni. On the day of his murder, prior to leaving the house, Mr. rabi’i had had a lengthy telephone conversation with Daneshi about the letter.  Sometime between leaving the house and the discovery of his body, around 5 P.M., Mr. Rabi’i made a call to his house, sounding anxious and agitated, uttering mostly gibberish. His wife’s account of the call:  “He was asking things such as “Where is this? Who are you?” I said: “Haji Agha, has something happened? What do you mean where is this? Don’t you recognize me?” He said: “I’m at Diselabad, I’m at Diselabad.” And he repeated it a few times and said he had taken his car to be repaired. Then he suddenly said: “Bring my child here, I want to see her.” My daughter was only a year old at the time. I got really scared and just asked him why he was speaking that way and what had happened. He simply said: “I’m dying, I’m dying.” Then he said “I’ll come there myself, in 20 minutes.”   And the line was cut off. That was the last time we heard Haji Agha’s voice.” (Roozonline, December 26, 2011) This call added to the family’s worries since a person they didn’t know called their house repeatedly asking for Mr. Rabi’i.

In her interview with Roozonline, Ms. Mafakheri, pointing to contradictions in the officials’ statements and the pressure put on Mr. Rabi’i’s family, said that the agents that had come to their house had initially stated that Mr. Rabi’i had been killed in the Ta’avoni Subdivision by the forced ingestion of cyanide, but later tried, through force and threats, to get the family to sign a report that stated the cause of death as heart attack. Mr. Rabi’i’s wife emphasized that he was in perfect health and was athletic. Years after the murder, the magnitude of the pressure put on the family by security officials has been such that they no longer even insist on obtaining a permit for the annual commemoration of his death.

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*Allameh Ahmad Moftizadeh was a Sunni Islamic scholar and a leading religious and political figure of Iranian Kurdistan. He was the founder of the Kor’an School of Kurdistan and of the Shams Council (the central council of the Sunni sect) and had spent a long time in prison under [the monarchy, the reign of] Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as well as under the Islamic Republic regime. One of his main demands after the Revolution, was amending the Constitution and restoring consultative rule in Iran (Kor’an School website, Shams website, Wikipedia)

** “Imam Ali” was the title of a historical and religious TV series that was broadcast during the 1996-97 season from Iranian television. This series, produced with government financing, portrayed the five-year rule of the Shi’a’s first Imam in a biased manner, according to Shi’a sources and interpretations, which caused the Sunni leaders as well as their followers to object.

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