The doors to Sadighieh Mosque in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran's Kurdistan province, are open, but there is no sign of a funeral service. Instead, a notice attached to the mosque’s wall announces: “The  funeral service for the late Saru Ghahremani will be held at his parents’ home.” A day earlier, his parents had received the body of their 24-year-old son, who had disappeared 11 days ago during the protests that swept through numerous Iranian cities.

On Saturday, January 13, human rights activist Mehdi Mahmoudian — a member of the Committee Investigating the ’96 Protests [referring to the current year in the Persian calendar, 1396] and a former prisoner of conscience himself — confirmed the news. “This morning, after 11 days, the body of the arrested Sanandaji protester Saru Ghahremani was delivered to his parents by the security forces,” he tweeted. “The parents of this martyr were sent to the Sanandaj [cemetery] in the ambulance carrying the body of Saru Ghahremani and he was buried without the presence of other members of his family.”

I spoke to one of Saru Ghahremani’s relatives. “Saru’s mother has been crying out since yesterday that the body of her son is black and blue. Security agents did not allow the memorial service to be held at the mosque and their relatives have been visiting their home to mourn and pray for him.” Earlier, a relative told BBC Persian that his family had been threatened to prevent them from talking to the media.

After the news of Ghahremani’s death was reported, cinema and TV actress Bahare Rahnama tweeted a picture of herself next to him. She wrote that he had been a delivery boy for the restaurant that she owns. “He was very calm and well-liked,” she tweeted. “Often, he was worried about his mother and sometimes he talked to me about her.” According to Bahare Rahnama, Saru Ghahremani had returned from Tehran to live in Sanandaj a year ago. She offered her condolences to his mother who, relatives say, has been beating herself since she first saw her son’s damaged body. 

 

Do Not Provoke Others!

On the morning of Sunday, January 14, Sanandaj’s governor called Rahnama. “They said that Mr. Ghahremani had been killed because he was working with a terrorist group,” she tweeted. “[They told me]: ’your information is wrong. It will provoke the young people and it might end in clashes that could hurt more youngsters.’ I asked them to publish their evidence so that people would know about it.”

A few hours after this tweet, the governor of Sanandaj, Mohammad Ebrahim Zarei, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that Saru Ghahremani had been associated with a “terror group” and had been killed in a clash with law enforcement agents [Persian link]. He said that, in 2012, Ghahremani had been planning to carry out an assassination in Sanandaj but was arrested due to the “vigilance” of the security establishment and was sentenced to five years in prison. However, said the governor, he was pardoned after two years and then resumed his cooperation with the terrorist groups. 

But a relative of Ghahremani disputes the governor’s account. “He was arrested and sent to prison when he was 18 for supporting the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran [KDPI],” says the relative, “but because he [had not taken part in] armed activities he was released [after] signing a pledge.”

Sanandaj’s governor offered some details about how Saru Ghahremani had been killed. On December 25, he said, “this individual threatened a citizen with a gun in a Sanandaj parking lot but escaped the location after a few minutes. The citizen who had been threatened complained to the police and evidence for this exists. When police were pursuing this individual and a collaborator who was accompanying him, they disregarded the police order to stop, shot at the police and were killed in the clash.”

 

11 Days after His Death?

But Ghahremani’ s relatives say that until January 3, Saru frequented his parental home. If authorities were pursuing him, they ask, why didn’t bailiffs come to his home? “Why has the date of the shootout not been announced?” they ask. “Why did they deliver Saru’s body 11 days after he disappeared, [despite the fact that] his family had notified the police station that he had disappeared? Why did they not allow his relatives to participate in the funeral? Why they did not give the family the death certificate?”

A few hours after the interview with the Sanandaj governor, Mehr News Agency published an interview with Mohammad Ghahremani, Saru’s father [Persian link]. He told the news agency that his son had been working with counter-revolutionary groups including the militant Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan. “Although I had advised him many times to stop, unfortunately he did not listen and he was killed in an armed clash with security forces in Sanandaj,” he said. 

However, an informed source told IranWire: “Today, security agents took Saru’s father to Sanandaj Intelligence Bureau. The interview was later published by Mehr News Agency.” A few hours later the interview was also broadcast on Iranian TV.

Ghahremani’s relatives say security agents have his family under close surveillance, and that they have threatened them with retaliation and arrest if they speak about what happened.

Saru Ghahremani is not the only protester to have lost his life after being arrested following the recent unrest. It was reported that three other protesters — Sina Ghanbari, Vahid Heydari, and Mohsen Adeli — also died while in police custody. The death of Sina Ghanbari in Evin Prison and of Vahid Heydari in a police station in Arak have since been confirmed. There are also conflicting reports about Mohsen Adeli, who was arrested in the southwestern city of Dezful.

Mohsen Adeli’s father Ali Ghasem Adeli told the reporter Fereshteh Ghazi [Persian link] that on December 31, there were demonstrations in the area where they lived. “One of my sons was a guest in another town. When he was returning, two bikers who had covered their faces appeared in front of him and shot him in the leg. We don’t know who they were and why they did that. Perhaps they had a personal grudge against me. I really don’t know. His wife called us and told us what had happened. My son Mohsen left around 8pm to see what had happened to his brother. As bad luck would have it, he was caught between demonstrators and security forces and he was shot.”

Members of Parliament Want Answers

The deaths of these three individuals have been confirmed by Ali Motahari, Deputy Speaker of the Iranian Parliament. “We have received reports that one person in Tehran and two in other cities have committed suicide,” he said. “We are supposed to receive a detailed report and we are waiting for it.”

According to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), on Sunday, January 14, a group of lawmakers called for an investigation into the deaths of the detainees. The group said an inquiry was needed because “relatives and eyewitnesses” had raised questions over the official claims that they had committed suicide.

But on January 15, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, the First Deputy Chief Justice of Iran, told a news conference that only two detainees had died while in custody. “One committed suicide in the police station in Arak,” he said. “He was a drug addict with a record and had drugs on him. We have opened a case about him and it is being investigated. Another person who was in Evin Prison because of recent unrest committed suicide in the bathroom. He was about 21 and a drug addict. Prison CCTV cameras have recorded this.”

Mohseni-Ejei’s statements referred to Mohammad Heydari in Arak and Sina Ghanbari in Tehran. Heydari’s family have denied that their 22-year-old son was a “drug-dealer addict” and say he was a street vendor. Mohammad Najafi, a human rights lawyer who is working pro bono on the case for the family told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on January 8: “I believe that this young man did not take his own life. They arrested him and then they beat and killed him. Now they want to destroy his reputation.”

Neither do Saru Ghahremani’s relatives believe that he was killed in a shootout. His parents have seen his body, and relatives have no doubt that he was beaten to death in police custody.

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