1982: Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, revolutionary foreign minister

Add comment September 15th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1982, Iranian revolutionary politician Sadegh Ghotbzadeh was shot in Tehran’s Evin Prison for supposedly plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic.

Ghotbzadeh had come by his revolutionary aspirations back in the 1950s and 1960s, after radicalizing as a teenager with the ouster of nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh; he’d be kicked out of Georgetown University for neglecting his studies in favor of protesting the U.S.-backed Shah and enter a twilight world of professional revolutionary exiles.


In Paris with the Ayatollah Khomeini.

He eventually joined the circle orbiting the Ayatollah Khomenei, returning to Iran with him on the famous Air France flight of February 1, 1979. Ghotbzadeh would serve as the frequent translator and spokesman of Khomeini, eventually becoming Foreign Minister amid the tumult of the Iranian students’ seizure of U.S. embassy hostages in late 1979.

In those fraught months, the urbane Ghotbzadeh became a familiar face on American televisions. He was notable advocate within Iran for quickly ending the hostage standoff, and spoke openly about Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ronald Reagan‘s ongoing behind-the-scenes project to prevent a hostage deal that might redound to his opponent’s electoral advantage.* His distaste for the hostage confrontation, as well as his westernized accoutrements, quickly set him at loggerheads with the revolution’s growing fundamentalist faction, and he was forced out of the foreign ministry in August 1980.

He was destined for the tragedy of revolutions devouring their own: arrested in April of 1982, his former associations with Khomeini availed him nothing in the face of a revolutionary tribunal that condemned him for “masterminding a plot to overthrow the Islamic Republic” and to assassinate Khomeini himself. Under torture, Ghotbzadeh confessed to planning a coup in a script right out of show trial central casting: “I am shamed before the nation. Free me or execute me.”

* This project succeeded so spectacularly that it’s still officially a kooky conspiracy theory in American political culture.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Iran,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Treason

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1984: Ten members of the Tudeh party

3 comments February 25th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1984, the Islamic Republic of Iran completed its destruction of the Tudeh party with ten executions.

In the 1940s, the Tudeh was Iran’s largest mass party and a fair bet to take power in the near future but state repression after Mossadegh was overthrown in 1953 had largely driven the Communist movement to the skulking margins.

Its fragments hung on underground, preparing and organizing for the proletarian revolution — an orientation that would leave the Tudeh entirely unprepared for the Iranian Revolution that really occurred. In fairness, few from Tehran to Moscow to Washington could read those tea leaves: who in the winter of the Cold War anticipated a great regional prize like Iran being captured by … the mullahs?

The Revolution released the once-banned party onto terra incognita as a minor outlet for leftward sentiment and perhaps a show of democratic good faith. But from the start it awkwardly existed on sufferance of an entirely incompatible regime. The venerable English journalist Robert Fisk, who covered the Iranian Revolution, filed a wry dispatch for the Times (Nov. 26, 1979) from the Tehran offices of Tudeh leader Nouredin Kianouri — unconvincingly trying to position his own movement within the events sweeping everyone along.

Tudeh is involved in “the radical struggle against imperialism”, and “the struggle for the reorganization of social life, especially for the oppressed strata of society” … and in so far as it is possible, Tudeh — Iran’s oldest political party — stands for the same things as Ayatollah Khomeini.

That, at least, is the theory: and Mr Kianouri holds to it bravely.

Tudeh demands a “popular front” government in Iran and Mr Kianouri professes to see little difference between this and Ayatollah Khomeini’s desire for national unity. “Popular Front”, however, is not an expression that has ever crossed the Imam’s lips and it is difficult to see how Iran’s new fundamentalist religious administration could form any cohesion with the materialist aims of Mr Kianouri’s scientific Marxism.

The article’s headline was “Ayatollah tolerates Communists until they become too popular,” but Tudeh never fulfilled its clause: it was blown out in the 1980 election, failing to win even a single seat, and maneuvered ineffectually for two years until a crackdown shattered its remnants with over 1,000 arrests early in 1983,* heavily targeting Tudeh-sympathizing army officers.** (The aforesaid Mr. Kianouri was forced to make a humiliating televised self-denunciation in 1983, although he surprisingly avoided execution.)

Those arrests culminated in a large show trial of 101 Tudeh principals in December 1983-January 1984, followed by smaller trials of lesser Tudeh figures in several cities over the months to come.

Eighty-seven Tudeh officials caught prison sentences ranging from eight months to life; these “lucky” ones, along with hundreds of other Tudeh adherents arrested in the years to come, would later be well-represented among the victims of Iran’s 1988 slaughter of political prisoners.

That left ten† reserved for execution on February 25 on charges compassing espionage, treason, and the weapons they had once naively stockpiled to fight against a monarchist coup. Notable among them were four high-ranking military officers: Col. Houshang Attarian, Col. Bezhan Kabiri, Col. Hassan Azarfar, and the chief catch, former Navy Commander Admiral Bahram Afzali.

Formally banned in Iran, the Tudeh party does still exists to this day, an exile shadow of its former glory.

* The U.S., officially abhorred of Iran, was in this period covertly aiding Tehran to raise funds to illegally bankroll Central American death squads — the Iran-Contra scandal. According to the American Tower Commission investigation of those events, the Tudeh were one of the lesser casualties this foreign policy misadventure when U.S. intelligence about the Tudeh network, largely obtained via a KGB defector, was passed to Tehran as a pot-sweetener: “In 1983, the United States helped bring to the attention of Tehran the threat inherent in the extensive infiltration of the government by the communist Tudeh Party and Soviet or pro-Soviet cadres in the country. Using this information, the Khomeini government took measures, including mass executions, that virtually eliminated the pro-Soviet infrastructure in Iran.” (See Appendix B here.)

** Iran at this moment was two years deep into its war with Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq, having in 1982 stalled out with a bloody and ineffectual offensive.

Other background of note: a different, Maoist party had in early 1982 launched a failed rising against the Islamic Republic.

† This doesn’t add up to 101. According to Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran, “when a Japanese correspondent asked why the numbers of those sentenced did not tally with those originally brought to trial, he [Mohammed Reyshahri] hedged, it was rumoured some had died during their interrogation.”

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1982: Khosrow Khan Qashqai

Add comment October 8th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1982, Khosrow Khan Qashqai was publicly hanged in Shiraz.

A member of the pastoral Turkic Qashqai people of southern Iran, Khosrow returned from exile* with the Iranian revolution. These were the revolution’s hopeful first days, when SAVAK was gone and a new world was possible.

Before it went all pear-shaped.

Not long after Khosrow’s constituents sent him to the new Iran’s new Parliament, relations with the emerging theocratic dictatorship soured, sending the Qashqai leader fleeing to the hills one step ahead of the new secret police in 1980.

Khosrow et al held out for two years before succumbing to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards — a grim period throughout Iran, marked by growing suppression of political dissidence and the ruinous war with neighboring Iraq.

Thirty years on, Qashqai still labor under discriminatory cultural restrictions and even property expropriation that the U.N. has charged constitutes a campaign of “ethnic restructuring”.

* The Shah kicked him out for having backed Mossadegh.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Iran,Politicians,Power,Public Executions

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1987: Mehdi Hashemi, Iran-Contra whistleblower

3 comments September 28th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1987,* Iranian cleric and revolutionary official Mehdi Hashemi was secretly executed … seemingly, for leaking the Iran-Contra scandal.

Hashemi was an O.G. of the Iranian Revolution, imprisoned by the notorious secret police SAVAK** and freed when the Shah’s government collapsed in 1979.

Hashemi had a series of posts in the revolutionary state generally relating to exporting the revolution, and under the aegis of Ayatollah Montazeri, who in the late 1980s was the heir apparent of Ayatollah Khomeini for leadership in the Islamic Republic.

Montazeri was a rival of parliamentarian Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani,† and further to that rivalry the Montazeri faction leaked embarrassing information about Rafsanjani’s dealings with the United States.

The Great Satan’s disreputable Middle East policy entailed playing both sides of the destructive Iran-Iraq War — arming Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq, while also making secret weapons sales through Israel to Iran despite a supposed arms embargo, thereby obtaining the release of American hostages in Lebanon.

This is the “Iran” half of the Iran-Contra scandal … which became the Iran-Contra scandal when Hashemi publicly exposed the existence of secret Iranian-American contacts to the Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa.

The immediate motivations appear murky even to specialists, of whom this writer is not one … but whatever they were, the leak backfired — as so often is the case — on the whistleblower himself.

While the authors of the covert policy in each country emerged stronger, Hashemi was arrested just before the story broke publicly and “persuaded” (with 75 lashes!) into one of those Soviet-style auto-denunciations, which was broadcast on Iranian TV.

Hashemi’s self-flagellation, as characterized here, runs thus:

Deviation is my ultimate sin. This is why I now stand before you. I began my career with minor infractions, gradually strayed from the correct path, continued with larger mistakes, then to major sins, and ultimately to the worst sin possible — that of heresy, apostasy, and treason against the Imam, the Community, Islam, and the Islamic Revolution. I have to ask myself what was the root cause of my downfall? …

(His answer: “carnal instincts”.)

I now realize that despicable sinners like myself had no business inside the heir-designate’s office. I thank God that I have been removed from that office …

I would like to plead with my former colleagues and friends who shared my deviant ideas to return to the correct path, relinquish their false notions, reform themselves, unite against imperialism, and overcome the carnal instincts that can lead them toward having relations with Satan and his representatives.

He was tried on a basket of nasty charges including “corruption on earth,” murder, kidnapping, plotting against the government … and, because state authority is not immune to irony, arms struggling.

Hashemi’s patron Ayatollah Montazeri worked unavailingly behind the scenes to save his man; Hashemi’s judge noted in his memoirs that the execution was carried out before the sentence went public, specifically to prevent Montazeri throwing his weight around to stop it.

But that weight would dwindle near to nothing in the months ahead, as the case opened a schism between Montazeri and the Iranian leadership.

After publicly calling for greater political openness, and criticizing a horrifying 1988 mass execution, Montazeri was officially demoted from the designated successor position in favor of Ayatollah Khamenei — who did indeed succeed to the Supreme Leader job, and holds it to this day.

Montazeri remained a frequent internal critic (and, for a time, political prisoner) of the Iranian government during the 1990s and 2000s; by the time of his December 2009 funeral, he was an emblem for the embattled Iranian reform movement.

* The execution was reported by Iranian radio as having taken place at dawn that same day, but opposition organizations immediately charged that it had actually been carried out some days before. (See New York Times, Sep. 29, 1987) If the matter has been definitively resolved, I have not been able to document it.

** For murdering a pro-regime theologian who dissed the Khomeini-backed book The Immortal Martyr, which recast Shi’a martyr Husayn Ali as a revolutionary inspiration for modern times.

† Rafsanjani also has a son named Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani — who is not to be confused with the subject of this post.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Iran,Murder,Politicians,Power,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Scandal,Shot,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions

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