Who is Mostafa Pourmohammadi? A profile of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s pick for Minister of Justice (August 5, 2013) – Following the inauguration of Hassan Rouhani—the new president of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI)—into office this past Saturday, August 3, it was announced that Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a former IRI Deputy Intelligence Minister, was nominated to be the IRI’s new Minister of Justice.
Mostafa Pourmohammadi (Photo credit: http://www.mardomak.org)
While some of Rouhani’s other cabinet nominations include moderate and reformist leaning politicians Mohammad Javad Zarif (Foreign Minister), Bijan Zanganeh (Oil Minister) and Mohammad Ali Najafi (Education Minister), as well as leading reformist Eshaq Jahangiri as his first Vice President and top deputy, Rouhani’s selection of Pourmohammadi, a member of an association of conservative political clergy, stands in stark contrast.
Of particular note is Pourmohammadi’s record of human rights violations during his tenure as Deputy Intelligence Minister from 1987 until 1999. During this period, Pourmohammadi was directly involved in the mass executions of members of leftist political groups in Iranian prisons in 1988, the extrajudicial assassinations of political opponents abroad and the unlawful killings of dissidents within Iran’s borders.
Who is Mostafa Pourmohammadi? A Brief Rundown
Pourmohammadi’s role in the 1988 Massacre:
As reported in IHRDC’s September 2009 report, Deadly Fatwa: Iran’s 1988 Prison Massacre, Mostafa Pourmohammadi acted as the Ministry of Information’s representative on a three-person committee that sentenced prisoners from political opposition groups to death in 1988.
The execution of thousands of prisoners in the summer and fall of 1988, or what has come to be known as the “1988 prison massacre”, remains one of the single most brutal periods in the history of the IRI. Pursuant to a fatwa—or religious edict—issued by then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, the IRI systematically interrogated, tortured and summarily executed thousands of political prisoners for their ideological and religious beliefs. Many families were not notified of the executions of their loved ones and most of the victims were buried in unmarked mass graves. The Iranian government has never identified those who were secretly executed and tortured, and has never issued an official explanation for this crime.
Pursuant to his fatwa, Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the creation of three-person commissions—or what prisoners referred to as “death commissions”—to question prisoners about their political and religious beliefs, and depending on the answers, determined who should be executed and/or tortured.
In Tehran the special commission was comprised of Hojjatolislam Hossein-Ali Nayyeri (a religious judge), Morteza Eshraghi (Tehran’s prosecutor) and a representative from the Ministry of Intelligence. Pourmohammadi acted as the representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and was responsible for interrogating prisoners.
Since the release of IHRDC’s Deadly Fatwa, the Iran Tribunal—a people’s court established to adjudicate serious allegations of human rights violations in the IRI during the 1980s—determined, pursuant to the judgment of a judicial bench composed of international legal practitioners that heard testimony from survivors and witnesses of the massacre, that the IRI “committed crimes against humanity in the 1980-1989 periods against its own citizens in violation of applicable international laws.”
This year marks the 25th anniversary of these executions.
Pourmohammadi’s role in the IRI’s policy of extrajudicial assassinations and the “Chain Murders”:
According to IHRDC’s May 2008 report, No Safe Haven: Iran’s Global Assassination Campaign, Pourmohammadi also played an instrumental role in the extrajudicial assassinations of political opposition figures perpetrated by the IRI in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Following Ayatollah Khomeini’s death in 1989, the Special Affairs Committee was established in order to deal with important matters of state including suppression and elimination of political opposition to the IRI. As a representative of the Ministry of Intelligence, Pourmohammadi came to play a role in the Special Affairs Committee since the Minister of Intelligence was a permanent member of the committee.
The Special Affairs Council was tasked with recommending individuals for assassination. Once the recommendation was approved by the Supreme Leader an individual committee member would be tasked with implementing the decision. The Special Affairs Council orchestrated the extrajudicial killings of prominent political opposition figures, including Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou (the leader of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, or PDKI), Dr. Shapour Bakhtiar (the last prime minister of Iran under Reza Shah Pahlavi and founder of the National Movement of Iranian Resistance), and Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Sharafkandi (another PDKI leader who took over the party’s leadership following Ghassemlou’s assassination), among others.
Pourmohammadi remained in the role of Deputy Intelligence Minister of the IRI during what came to be known as the “Chain Murders”, or a series of killings of dissident Iranian intellectuals, writers, journalists and activists that began in the late 1980s.
Details of Pourmohammadi’s Appointment
According to a report published by Fars News, a semi-official Iranian news agency, Hasan Rahami, head of the public relations branch of the Ministry of Justice announced that Pourmohammadi would be the sole nominee for the role of Minister of Justice.
Article 160 of the Constitution of the IRI states that the Minister of Justice will be “elected from among the individuals proposed to the President by the head of the judiciary branch.”
This provision of the Constitution is notable on two counts. First, the President is provided with discretion in selecting the Minister of Justice. Second, the Constitution gives the option to the head of the judiciary to propose several candidates for the post, not just a single candidate, such as is the case here.
Parliament is unlikely to reject Rouhani’s cabinet selections as it has been reported that the IRI’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei implicitly approved Rouhani’s cabinet list prior to its submission to Parliament.