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State agents suspected of shooting Rafsanjani opponent in street

The Independent
By Robert Fisk
13 March 2000

Is the "Dungeon of Ghosts" still in existence? Yesterday morning, two men on a 1,000cc motorbike beloved by the security services in Iran tried to murder the editor-in-chief of Sob e-Emrous newspaper, which has repeatedly questioned the activities of the former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Saeed Hajjarian, a member of Tehran's municipal council, was shot in the face and shoulder one of the assailants got off his motorbike to shoot the editor again on the pavement outside his office but the bullet, lodged in the back of his neck, did not kill him.

Last week The Independent disclosed the existence of a "death list" compiled by senior clerics and intelligence ministry officials during Mr Rafsanjani's presidency, which resulted in the murder of up to 100 intellectuals, journalists and petty criminals in Iran.

Tehran newspapers have reprinted a garbled version of The Independent's report as it appeared in Turkish newspapers but have otherwise suppressed details of the dispatch, which included the names of intelligence officers on the "death" committee.

Mr Hajjarian is a close friend and adviser of the reformist President, Mohamed Khatami, whose rule was endorsed in last month's parliamentary elections, and Mr Khatami condemned the attempted assassination yesterday as the work of "terrorists".

Mr Hajjarian's columnist Akbar Gangi was quoted in this newspaper last week as asking why Mr Rafsanjani claimed he did not know about the killings during his presidency. Mr Gangi referred to the "death list" officials as the "Dungeon of Ghosts" upon whom light should be thrown to establish their identities. In Iran, 1,000cc motorcycles can only be used by law by members of the security forces.

Like the president's brother Mohamed-Reza now the leader of the largest reformist party in parliament Mr Hajjarian was one of the students who took over the United States embassy in Tehran in 1980. He was one of the founders of the Intelligence Ministry.

Although breathing with the help of a respirator and initially in a coma, Mr Hajjarian was last night said to be improving but still in danger. The Iranian Ministry of Culture, which is in the hands of Mr Khatami's supporters, said yesterday that Mr Hajjarian's would-be assassins were "opponents of freedom" but that "bullets cannot halt the establishment of democracy in Iran". President Khatami said that the gunmen had "no place among the people".

The "Dungeon of Ghosts", it seems, is still in being.