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Corrupt Iranian runaway judge exposes deep fractures in regime

By
Struan Stevenson
Iran's judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani (L) sits next to former judiciary chief Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi during his inauguration ceremony in Tehran on August 17, 2009. File Photo by Hoshang Hadi/ILA/UPI
Iran's judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani (L) sits next to former judiciary chief Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi during his inauguration ceremony in Tehran on August 17, 2009. File Photo by Hoshang Hadi/ILA/UPI | License Photo

June 16 (UPI) -- In January 2018, a crowd of around 200 ex-pat Iranians gathered outside the International Neuroscience Institute in Hanover, Germany.

They were demanding the authorities arrest and prosecute Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the former chief of judiciary in Iran, who had traveled to the clinic to receive treatment for cancer from professor Majid Samii, a renowned Iranian-German neurosurgeon. The protesters alleged that Shahroudi was guilty of horrific crimes against humanity, including the execution of more than 2,000 political prisoners. He had even refused to grant an appeal against a death sentence imposed on a 13-year-old child in 2007. Fearing his own imminent arrest, Shahroudi fled back to Tehran, where he died later that year.

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In a bizarre turn of fate, it was claimed that another corrupt Iranian judge had recently arrived at the same Hanover clinic. It was said that Gholamreza Mansouri was also receiving treatment from Samii. On hearing the news earlier this month, a crowd of ex-pat Iranians quickly gathered outside the clinic demanding his arrest. However, after denials by both the German Foreign Ministry and the INI, Mansouri was traced to Bucharest, where he was arrested by Romanian police on a warrant issued by Interpol.

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He is being held pending the restoration of flights to Tehran, suspended during the coronavirus pandemic. In the meantime, many ex-pat Iranians in Romania have demanded his indictment for crimes against humanity so that he can face trial in Europe.

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As a judge in Iran, Mansouri was responsible for a vicious crackdown on the media, censoring the Internet, banning newspapers and ordering the mass arrest and torture of journalists on fabricated charges. As a lickspittle devotee of the theocratic regime, he ordered the arrest of at least 20 journalists in Iran on a single day in 2013, subjecting many of them to torture while in custody.

The Iranian regime arrested, imprisoned or executed at least 860 journalists in the three decades between the Islamic revolution in 1979 and 2009, according to documents leaked to the media monitoring group Reporters Sans Frontières. The arrests continue to this day.

Pouria Alami, a former Iranian journalist, wrote in a tweet that Mansouri sentenced him to solitary confinement on charges of "collaboration with MI6," the British intelligence agency. Concocted espionage accusations were one of Mansouri's favorite tactics and could often lead to the death penalty.

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Reyhaneh Tabatabai, a reporter for the Sharq newspaper at the time, also named Mansouri as the prosecutor who ordered her arrest in 2013. Sharq was banned in 2012 following its publication of a controversial cartoon "The Blindfolded Men." The cartoonist, Hadi Heydari, and the newspaper manager and license holder, Mehdi Rahmanian, were jailed.

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In a press conference held in Paris last year to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution that brought the mullahs to power in Iran in 1979, RSF released a report based on months of detailed research, showing how the theocratic regime had arrested, imprisoned and executed hundreds of journalists. RSF said it had referred its file to the high commissioner for human rights at the United Nations, demanding that those responsible be held to account.

Christophe Deloire, secretary general of RSF, said, "The very existence of this file and its millions of entries show not only the scale of the Iranian regime's mendacity...but the relentless machinations it used for 40 years to persecute men and women for their opinions or their reporting."

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Deloire said RSF had identified at least four journalists who had been executed, including Simon Farzami, a Swiss-Iranian of Jewish origin who was bureau chief of French news agency Agence France-Presse when he was arrested in 1980. Among the 860 journalists arrested by the regime were 218 women.

Beyond the journalists rounded up or imprisoned, RSF said the files showed 61,900 political prisoners had been held since the 1980s, with more than 500 of them between ages 15 and 18. The United Nations has irrefutable evidence of the summary execution of more than 30,000 supporters of the People's Mojahedin of Iran/Mojahedin e-Khalq (PMOI/MEK) by the Iranian regime in the summer of 1988. It was an atrocity that must rank as a crime against humanity and one of the most horrific mass murders of the late 20th century. The mass executions, in jails across Iran, were carried out on the basis of a fatwa by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

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Mansouri's role in these crimes have been well documented. But in a further twist of fate, it now seems as if Mansouri's corruption as a judge has caught up with him. Mansouri fled Iran immediately after Ebrahim Raisi was appointed chief of Iran's judiciary last year and replaced Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, with whom Mansouri had closely collaborated. Raisi was one of the key executioners during the 1988 massacre of political prisoners. His appointment as justice minister signaled a new ultra hard-line approach by supreme leader Ali Khamenei and exposed the deep fractures at the heart of the regime. The ousting of Larijani and accusations of corruption against Mansouri were clear signs of that internal civil war.

Corruption has been institutionalized within the Iranian regime, particularly in its governing bodies, from the outset. All the regime's elite executive managers, members of parliament, military personnel, members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and clerics are deeply involved in corruption. The IRGC, the regime's Gestapo, is the main organization systematically involved in corruption, plundering and embezzlement.

The regime's military hierarchy and top government officials use their positions to finance or provide jobs for their families with high salaries. Relatives of the regime's top officials routinely use their family connections to achieve top positions in the government or to acquire huge and profitable businesses and contracts.

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Public unrest and repeated uprisings against the venal corruption of the regime have resulted in sporadic "show trials," where the mullahs pretend to take action against such sleaze and dishonesty. One such recent case involved Akbar Tabari, former executive deputy of the Islamic Republic's powerful judiciary, who went on trial June 7 in Tehran for large-scale corruption.

Tabari was accused of receiving bribes for influencing legal cases and judicial procedures. In bombshell evidence during his trial, Tabari revealed that he had paid €500,000 ($565,000) to Mansouri, to bribe him to sway a judgment in his favor on a major land and construction project dispute.

The Romanians should not allow Mansouri to be extradited to Iran. His show trial there and probable execution might seem a fitting end for a gangster guilty of crimes against humanity, but it is more important that he face trial in the European Court of Justice, where his evidence will help to expose the wider corruption and criminality of the Iranian regime.

Struan Stevenson is the coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.

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