A veteran member of parliament and a former commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has been convicted of rape, the head of the Justice Department, Gholamhossein Esmaeili, announced on March 15.
Hours later, the IRGC-run Fars news agency reported that Esmaeili was referring to the MP for the city of Malekan, Salman Khodadadi, who is chairman of the legislative body's Committee for Social Affairs.
Based on local news reports, Khodadadi was sentenced to two years’ exile, a two-year ban from serving in public institutions, and 99 lashes.
Speaking with the judiciary's news website, Mizan, Esmaeili said that because the verdict was not final and can be appealed, he could not elaborate on the case.
However, Fars insisted that its "investigative" reporters had verified that the defendant is Salman Khodadadi.
The MP Supervisory Board said it had not yet received any information on the case.
The body of Zahra Navidpour was discovered on January 6 in her mother’s house in Khodadadi's Malekan constituency. Malekan is a town and a small region in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.
In a statement, the prosecutor’s office in Malekan said it was an “apparent suicide,” but investigations were underway to determine the actual cause of death.
Navidpour had released a video and audio clips accusing Khodadadi of sexually assaulting her when she had asked for a job approximately four years ago.
Furthermore, Navidpour had said she was repeatedly threatened by Khodadadi’s nephew, Massoud Hashempour, and Kamal Khoshpayman, the head of the legal affairs office of the municipality and IRGC member in the city of Tabriz, respectively.
Navidpour had also said she gave evidence to the IRGC's Intelligence Organization, the Intelligence Ministry, and the Guardian Council but received no response.
According to Navidpour, the Guardian Council contacted her and asked her to submit her evidence. When she met with members of the council, they told her to file a complaint and that they would “stand behind her.” But after filing her complaint, she said, she was told, “It has nothing to do with us. We are not a law office.”
In the video she gave to Gunaz TV to broadcast, Navidpour asked international organizations to help ensure her safety. Gunaz TV is a TV channel transmitted in the Azerbaijani language, and its headquarters are in the U.S. city of Chicago.
Posting on Telegram, Akbar Alami, a former MP, called on the authorities to look into Navidpour’s case and question reports that it was a suicide, especially considering the victim's determined pursuit of her rights over the last four years.
Moreover, Navidpour disclosed that at a court hearing, Khodadadi had admitted that the voice in audio threats sent to her belonged to him, but the judge decided to release him on bail.
The Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) said on January 8 that documents left by Navidpour showed that several other women had also been raped by Khodadadi but did not file complaints out of fear for their lives.
Khodadadi has served five four-year terms in Iran’s parliament, but he has been a controversial figure due to multiple sexual-abuse allegations.
He is a veteran of the IRGC and also served in the Intelligence Ministry -- strong credentials for a candidate to pass the stringent barrier of the Guardian Council, which vets all candidates before they can run for elected office. Usually, thousands are rejected, and a much smaller percentage are approved to run.
Roughly midway in his more than 20-year career as a lawmaker, he was summoned by a Tehran court and arrested on charges of “moral corruption” and illegal sexual relations and later released apparently on bail.
In Iran, any intimate contact with a member of the opposite sex outside of marriage is punishable by law.
It is not clear how his legal travails ended, but he was re-elected to the parliament in 2008. A female member of parliament objected to the approval of his credentials, but she was later persuaded to withdraw her objection.
In 2012, the Guardian Council did not approve his candidacy, and for one term he was out of the parliament.
When President Hassan Rouhani was elected in 2013, Khodadadi became an adviser to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Khodadadi apparently has a doctorate in international relations.
In 2016, he was again elected to the parliament.