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The Day They Killed My Husband: Sunni Cleric's Wife Remembers

Iran -- Molla Mohammad Rabiei-Undated

Speaking to Radio Farda, Aisha Mafakheri, the wife of Molla Mohammad Rabiei, the Friday Prayer Imam of Sunnis in Kermanshah province, remembers the details of her husband's abduction and murder.

Molla Mohammad Rabiei was among the victims of the political chain murders, in which Iranian intelligence agents killed him 24 years ago but never took responsibility.

"In Kurdish, he said, 'Hilakam [I am devastated], I am exhausted and disturbed.' He asked me to pass the phone to his daughter. He repeated several times that he was in Diesel Abad [a region in Kermanshah]. What he said was a mixture of unrelated subjects. He was not talking like an average person, as if they had tortured him somewhere. Then, the line was disconnected. When we found his corpse, it was still warm, and there was a trace of injection on his leg."

Known as Mamousta Rabiei, he was assassinated in Kermanshah on December 3, 1996.

Aisha Mafakheri remembered that the intelligence agents repeatedly summoned her husband and interrogated him.

"Whenever I asked him what the reason for summoning him was, he used to tersely say, 'They sought ways for improving and moderating society, and there are things that should not be said.'"

However, shortly before his assassination, Rabiei spoke about his interrogations for the first time, believing that his last interrogation would lead to his death.

"A person named Mr. Danshi who was Kermanshah's Deputy Intelligence Head for Sunni]Affairs came to visit us," Mafakheri recalled. "He said that he had something to discuss but at his office. They took him away. We thought that they had taken him to the Intelligence Department. When he returned, he called me, and his children and brides stood in front of his library and said, 'For God's sake, for the sake of these books, do not let the children go out.' I said, what happened? He said that they invited me for alliance and unification [between Shi'ites and Sunnis], but they took me out of the city, somewhere towards Bistoon [an ancient site]. We were on a flat dirt road with nothing around. On our way, a door opened on the ground, and they took me down through the undergrounds of the Bistoon Mountains.'"

"He said they talked to me about unity, but may God have mercy on us," she continued. "He said there were three people. One was interrogating, one was reporting behind the glass, and one was taking notes. He was terrified. He said, 'I started reciting the Qur'an in my heart and said to myself, poor Rabiei, you are done, you will not return to see your wife and children. God have mercy on me. But it ended well.'"

This was how Mafakheri remembered those ominous days in her life. 24 years later, she insists that she has no feud with anybody but the ones who murdered her husband.

Sunni Muslims in Kermanshah were furious and felt insulted by a controversial new TV series, Imam Ali. Meanwhile, they were unhappy with the discrimination against Sunnis in schools and universities. They called on their high-ranking cleric, Rabiei, not to stand idly by and be their voice of protest. Responding to the Sunnis' outcry, Rabiei wrote a letter to Kermanshah's head of the Intelligence Bureau and the Education Department Director.

In the letter, Rabiei expanded about the brotherhood and Sunnis' presence alongside other Iranians in the devastating eight-year Iran-Iraq war to defend the homeland. Challenging the authorities by demanding the reasons behind their efforts to disturb the peace between Sunnis and Shi'ites, Rabiei wrote, "If there are any social and religious issue or any other problem, I am the representative of the Sunnis, I am their Friday Prayer Leader, and I am prepared to discuss the issues with you and tackle them sympathetically."

Nevertheless, the response to the letter was his abduction and death. His wife says that on the morning of December 3, Rabiei spoke to someone on the phone for "a very long time. I was in another room. I went there and asked him what was going on. He named someone and said, 'He was from the Intelligence Service, responding to the letter I had written.'"

The same day, Rabiei left his home and disappeared on the way to the office of Seda va Sima, Iran's monopolized radio and TV network.

As the Sunnis' Friday Prayer Leader and Imam of their Grand Mosque in Kermanshah, Rabiei contributed to the local radio and TV station as a writer, religious scholar, and moderator.

Almost immediately after Rabiei left the house, suspicious telephone calls were placed to his residence, a prelude to breaking the news of his death.

"From 1 p.m., someone regularly telephoned and inquired, 'Where is Master?' I repeated that he was at the office. He used to ask, 'What if he was not there?' I told him that he might have had some errands outside his office. Nevertheless, he kept calling every twenty minutes or half an hour, scaring me to death."

However, at 5 p.m., Rabiei telephoned and spoke in such a pleading and strange tone that his wife could not recognize his voice.

"I said, 'Sir, what do you want?' He said, 'Where is this? Who are you?' I said, Sir, you have dialed our number. What do you want? Suddenly I realized it was Mr. Rabiei. I screamed and said, where are you? Why are you like this? He said, 'Don't you understand that I'm so tired?' Then, he said

In Kurdish, 'Hilakam [I am devastated], I am exhausted and disturbed.'"

"I said, what for? What has happened?" she added. "He said, 'A man named Abbas Ramsari brought my car, I am in Dieselabad, I am in Dieselabad, I am in Dieselabad,' repeated three or four times. His voice was indistinct. I said, 'Dieselabad, for what?' He repeatedly said they brought the car to Dieselabad. Then, he said, 'Bring my daughter, I want to talk to her.' I said, 'You were quite healthy when you left the house.' Again, and again, he said, 'No. I'm not feeling good; I'm deeply distressed'. He was mumbling; his words were confusing; I could not understand. Then the line was cut off. I told his children, and we toured the whole city of Kermanshah until 9:30 p.m.

Friends kept looking for him until his body was found two streets behind our house."

Rabiei's corpse was still warm when they found it. They had taken him out of his car and laid him on the ground.

"They had left the car headlights on and placed his turban under his head. They had pulled the cloak over his head and put his glasses next to his hand. The trace of the injection on his leg was visible. There were also marks on his neck. About five inches of the car's safety belt was left. I do not know what they had done that the car belt was torn. Mamousta was an athlete, he did not give up easily, and I do not know whether there was a fight, or they had beaten him; I do not know."

Police told Rabiei's family that he was taken to a town called the Ta'avoni Town. They killed him there and then dumped his corpse on the side of the road, near his house. They offered no further explanation of why or how he was murdered.

"They took his sons. I don't know what they said, but at that time, our house was under siege. They were constantly threatening us. We did not have a proper ceremony to commemorate his fortieth day of death, but people came. They cut off electricity to our house and neighborhood. In short, the 'servants of God' did whatever they could to 'serve' us."

The assassination of Rabiei led to widespread social protests in Kermanshah. Security forces severely repressed the demonstrators, killing more than a dozen people, injuring many, and arresting scores.

"Many were detained, imprisoned, wounded, and killed. People took away the wounded and treated them at their homes, keeping the intelligence agents and security forces in the dark."

A former representative of Kermanshah in the Assembly of Experts, Zikrollah Ahmadi, who was also the former Chief Justice of Kermanshah province, asked Rabiei's family to testify in writing that he had died of a heart attack.

"Along with several interrogators, [Ahmadi] came to our house and narrated lots of stories to lure me into signing the death certificate. 'Come and agree and sign that he died of a stroke,' he said. I responded, 'Sir, even if Gabriel, let alone you, appears, I still insist that my husband has been killed. I do not recognize you. I am not afraid of anything. You killed my husband, and now you are storytelling for me? I will not sign, and our case is not before you. My case is before God, and I ask God to be the judge.'"

Following the revelation of the Political Chain Murders in the fall of 1998 and the public outcry that ensued, the Ministry of Intelligence was forced to officially accept responsibility for the murders of Mohammad Mokhtari, Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, Dariush, and Parvaneh Forouhar, blaming crime on its "rogue staff." Encouraged by the development, Mafakheri found a new motivation to pursue her husband's case in Tehran.

"I went to Mr. Shoushtari, the Minister of Justice. I sat on the floor of the Justice Department and started a sit-in protest. I said I was seeking justice. The Minister's Chief of Staff, Mr. Izgoli, called for [Mamousta's] file. Then he told me to go away, that 'nothing can be done for you, your husband has been killed.' They called Shoushtari, and he told them to get rid of me. Then, they never responded to my inquiries. During President [Mohammad] Khatami's term, they sent someone promising to follow up the case. I went to the Islamic Consultative Assembly and complained. They told me in parliament that my husband's case was a part of Political Chain Murders. I also hired a lawyer but received no response."

And now, 24 years have passed since the murder of Mamousta Rabiei and 22 years since his wife received the last evasive response from the authorities.