The below is an archived article first published by IranWire on July 19, 2021. It has been republished as part of our new series on transnational repression. Read more about the project here.
Last week Behrouz "Rebin" Rahimi, a 49-year-old political activist, was assassinated in the city of Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan by unknown assailants. The murder of this exiled Iranian from Sanandaj has shocked and angered Kurdish and human rights communities. Rahimi’s wife told IranWire he had previously received death threats after rejecting an invitation to work with the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.
A new wave of pressure on the families of civil and human rights activists is also under way in the Iranian border provinces of Kurdistan, West Azerbaijan and Kermanshah. In recent weeks, the parents of Iranians living in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan have been summoned by the security agencies and told to help lure their children back to Iran.
On July 13 four Iranian agents were indicted in New York City over a plot to kidnap Masih Alinejad, a prominent Iranian journalist and activist-in-exile, and bring her back to Iran via Venezuela. Earlier, Alinejad had reported that Islamic Republic security agents had tried to co-opt her siblings into a plot to kidnap her from Istanbul.
In October 2020, a Revolutionary Court in Tehran then sentenced Masih’s brother Alireza Alinejad to eight years in prison, shortly after he revealed that he had refused to cooperate with intelligence agents in luring Masih to Turkey.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has a long, documented track record of assassinating and kidnapping dissidents overseas. Behrouz Rahimi’s widow and the relatives of other activists in exile have spoken to IranWire about the Intelligence Ministry’s attempts to recruit them in this criminal activity.
Behrouz Rahimi: Targeted in Iraqi Kurdistan by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry
“On Wednesday afternoon, at around one o’clock, my husband’s boss informed me that Behrouz, who was working at the Zhaleh industrial park, had fainted and been taken to Shorsh hospital in Suleymaniyah.
“He insisted that I take a family member or a relative along with me to the hospital. When I got to Behrouz, he was lying on the bed, half dead. At first I thought he had passed out but immediately I noticed his belly and waist were punctured. Four bullets had struck him from behind. The vital organs in his abdomen were nearly destroyed and he had lost a lot of blood.
“The surgeon told me to talk to him before they took him to operating room, so that he wouldn’t fall sleep. But, despite all the doctors’ efforts by the doctors, Behrouz died after five hours in hospital.”
Zoleikha Nasseri’s husband Behrouz Rahimi was murdered in cold blood last Wednesday in Iraqi Kurdistan. During their last conversation on the hospital ward, he managed to describe the attack to her.
“Around noon,” he told her, “just as I was entering the hangar, they shot at me from a black BMW. At first nobody noticed because the gun had a silencer on and they left the scene straight away.”
Nasseri told IranWire that three months ago, agents at Sanandaj Intelligence Department in Iranian Kurdistan had abruptly called her husband. Before then Behrouz had been subjected to a barrage of abuse and threats, on social media and through anonymous phone calls. The agents told him they knew he was living in poverty, and offered him financial support in exchange for his “cooperation”.
Rahimi vehemently rejected the offer and reiterated his opposition to the Islamic Republic. A few days later, Nassiri says, “they called him again – this time with a death threat.”
Behrouz Rahimi had been a member of a Kurdish political party avowedly opposed to the Islamic Republic. He and his wife left Iran about 10 years ago and lived in Iraqi Kurdistan as refugees. Zoleikha Nasseri believes that the Ministry of Intelligence is the main culprit in her husband’s assassination.
The security forces of Iraqi Kurdistan are reportedly still hunting for his killers. At the time of writing, they were still at large.
Iranian Kurdish Activist Soran Aram’s Mother Intimidated
On Friday, July 16, Soran Aram, another Iranian Kurd from Mahabad in West Azerbaijan who lives as a refugee in Turkey, discovered that his mother Zoleikha Sadatnejad had been summoned to the Intelligence Department of Urmia.
Since 2019, since her son left Iran, Sadatnejad has been summoned and arrested on multiple occasions by the intelligence bureaus of Mahabad and Urmia. No formal charges were ever issued and she was released each time following a long interrogation.
Aram, 40, was arrested back in 2013 by the Mahabad branch on charges of charges of “conspiracy” and “propaganda against the regime”. He was held for 18 days and denied the charges, but was ultimately jailed by Judge Zaheri of Branch 2 of Mahabad Revolutionary Court. In early 2014, after four months in prison, Aram was granted temporary release after posting a heavy bail, whereupon he fled to Turkey.
A source close to Aram family told IranWire that two weeks ago, Ms. Sadatnejad was called back to Mahabad’s intelligence bureau. When she got there, though, she was sent to Urmia instead. “Her interrogation took about three hours,” they said. “When she left the building it was as if no blood remained in her body.
“Her hands were ice-cold, and she was shaking. As well as the insults and verbal harassment, she had been told that if Soran did consent to return to Iran or to cooperate with them, they would not only summon her but would give her the news of his death. They had also demanded that she provide the home and work addresses, and phone numbers, of people who were in contact with Soran in Turkey.”
Today Soran Aran runs a bakery in Istanbul and according to this source, was horrified by the treatment of his mother by the Urmia intelligence officials. In addition, they said, it came as a surprise “because they themselves have all this information. Many members of the Iranian embassy in Istanbul are customers at his bakery and apart from where he works, they undoubtedly know where he lives.”
Hengaw Board Members Zhila Mostajer and Arsalan Yarahmadi Stalked in Iraq
On July 8, the Erbil-based human rights organization Hengaw published a statement about the plight of two of its own board members, Zhila Mostajer and Arsalan Yarahmadi. The couple, Hengaw said, were being threatened by the Intelligence Bureau of Saqez in Iranian Kurdistan.
“Agents of the Intelligence Ministry have repeatedly and illegally summoned members of the pair’s families in Iran...and threatened them with imminent action,” the statement read. Both Mostajer and Yarahmadi have been living in Iraqi Kurdistan as refugees for the past seven years.
Arsalan Yarahmadi told IranWire that ever since 2017, when Hengaw was first founded, members of his family – especially his father – have been forced to endure harassment and repeated summonses from the Intelligence Bureau of Ravansar, a city in the western Iranian province of Kermanshah. In the past year, he said, the regime has shifted focus to his wife’s family members instead.
Zhila Mostajer, a native of Saqez, told IranWire her mother, sisters and younger brother had been regularly summoned both before and after November 2019. But after her recent efforts to better-inform the public about violations of human rights in Iranian Kurdistan, the Intelligence Ministry changed tack.
From March this year, she said, her family had been the target of verbal harassment and had had manipulated images of a sexual nature sent to them through social media. Her relatives have been hauled to Saqez Intelligence Bureau at least six times and told in no uncertain terms that they were required to help bring her back to Iran.
“Less than 10 days ago,” she said, “they summoned my sister and my younger brother to the intelligence bureau and interrogated them separately for at least four hours.”
A source close to the family told IranWire they had also previously been pressured to dissuade Mostajer from her media activism. Now, however, “they insist that they want Zhila to return to Iran.”
During interrogations, the family were provided with intimate details of the couple’s life, including the type of the car that they drove and their address in Erbil. They were also shown pictures of the pair going about their daily lives, which shocked the whole Mostajer family. “They were told,” the source said, “that that one night, when the couple were eating dinner at a restaurant in Erbil, they were just five meters away from them.
“They asked the Mostajer family – particularly Zhila’s younger sister – to bring Zhila back to Iran. They even said that they would pay for her sister to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan so she could convince Zhila to return.”