Thirty years after the assassination of Chapour Bakthiar, “Iranian opponents are still threatened”

Thirty years ago, on August 6, 1991, the last Prime Minister of the Shah of Iran, Chapour Bakhtiar, was brutally murdered by three men in Suresnes, in the Paris suburbs. Eleven years earlier, he had already escaped a first attempted murder. Symbol of the hunt led by the Islamic Republic against its opponents refugees abroad, he is neither the first nor the last of the victims.

However, closely protected by French police, Chapour Bakhtiar , the last Prime Minister of the Shah of Iran, was assassinated on August 6, 1991 at his exiled home in Suresnes, in the Paris suburbs. His body and that of his secretary were not found until two days later.

This political opponent had already escaped an attempted murder in 1980, barely a year after the first political assassination claimed by the Islamic Republic outside its borders: on December 7, 1979, Chahryar Chafik, a nephew of the Shah, was killed in Paris.

During the trial, one of the three assassins of Chapour Bakthiar, Ali Vakili Rad , admits to having been sent by the Iranian government. A few months later, in August 1992, popular singer and opponent Fereydoun Farrokhzad was found dead in the kitchen of his apartment in Bonn, Germany.

According to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights , nearly 540 Iranians refugees abroad have thus been assassinated or kidnapped by Iran since 1979 , so that ”  kidnappings, disappearances and extrajudicial executions spread fear in the community in exile for more than four decades.  ”

And the threat continues: In July 2021, the FBI announced it had foiled a plan of kidnapping an American journalist of Iranian origin ,  residing in the United States.

Opponent  Rouhollah Zam was executed in Iran in December 2020, after being fraudulently lured into Iraq by the Iranian secret service and brought to Iran. Accused of having fomented anti-government demonstrations thanks to the Telegram channel “  Amadnews  ” which he directed from France, he enjoyed the status of political refugee.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the death of Chapour Bakhtiar, what about the policy pursued by Iran and its intelligence services with regard to opponents who have taken refuge abroad? Interview with the sociologist and political scientist specializing in Iran Mahnaz Shirali, teacher at Sciences Po Paris.

RFI: Does the assassination of Chapour Bakhtiar illustrate a policy of targeted assassinations carried out by the Islamic Republic against its opponents who have taken refuge abroad?

Mahnaz Shirali: I think so. The will to solve political problems through violence can be found from the very beginnings of the Islamic Revolution. Since that day, many Iranians have disappeared or been murdered on French soil.

After the Shah’s nephew in 1979, General Gholam-Ali Oveissi [former commander-in-chief of the Shah’s army] was also killed while walking in the street in Paris in 1984. Followed by Chapour Bakhtiar in 1991. His killer has since been freed by France and lives normally in Iran. It’s sad.

There have also been assassinations in other countries. At the Mykonos restaurant, [September 17, 1992, in Berlin], the leaders of the Iranian Kurdish opposition were massacred. They had been invited by the leaders of the Islamic Republic to negotiate a ceasefire. The two Iranian representatives went to the toilet, and men armed with machine guns arrived. Kurdish opposition leaders Sadegh Sharafkandi, Fattah Abdoli and Homayoun Ardalan, and their translator, Nouri Dehkordi, were killed.

It is a very significant story. We are dealing with a State which allows itself to massacre its own nationals wherever they are, on its soil or that of democratic countries, as soon as they criticize its policy.

It is a way of sending a message, of controlling the Iranians even when they are abroad by saying to them: “Please  don’t think that you can criticize us, even if you are abroad, even if you have another nationality. You are not immune. We are all-powerful and we can do whatever we want with you . ”

Is this still the case today?

Whenever Iranian leaders feel in trouble with their people, they call for repression. And the best way to suppress is to kill the thinking heads exiled abroad. Right now, with the return of Trump’s sanctions , economic hardship, and an upsurge in anti-government protests , [the Islamic Republic’s] violence against its opponents is on the rise.

Political opponents and Iranians abroad critical of the regime are systematically threatened. Kidnapping and bombing plans are on the rise. Just three weeks ago, the FBI unveiled  the kidnapping plan  that targeted Masih Alinejad, a woman of Iranian descent living in the United States with American nationality. Quite simply because she is a journalist and she says what is happening in Iran.

Last May, an Iranian diplomat was sentenced to twenty years in prison in Belgium for a planned attack. He had brought explosives into Belgium [in 2018] to target a rally of the People’s Mujahedin, an opposition group to the Islamic Republic.

Myself, I receive emails that tell me: ”  What do you think, do you think you are safe in France?” We can kidnap you whenever we want. While I’m only a sociologist, I don’t even belong to a political party.

As soon as the Iranians dare to take a critical look at the policies of the Islamic Republic, they are in danger wherever they are, in Iran and abroad Democratic countries do not react. How far do we leave the door open to this kind of act  ?

What can we expect from the recent election of the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raïssi to the presidency of Iran  ?

Ebrahim Raïssi is a great murderer. With his arrival in power, the situation is likely to worsen. [When he was a prosecutor], he never hesitated to sign the execution orders for political prisoners. I think the Islamic Republic is in a phase of radicalization in the face of violence. She will be even more rigorous, even more violent than she already is.

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