Martin FletcherRamin Pourandarjani was a brilliant medical student with a promising future, until he was found dead in a dormitory at Tehran police headquarters last week. He is now the new cause célèbre of the Iranian Opposition, with MPs and Western organisations demanding an investigation into the death of a man who knew too much.
The official cause of death for the physician is heart attack but there is evidence that regime officials drove him to suicide or murdered him because he witnessed the brutality used against opposition detainees after the disputed election in June.
Dr Pourandarjani, 26, attended a school for gifted children, graduated with distinction from the University of Tabriz and was doing his two-year national service at the Kahrizak detention centre in Tehran during the June protests.
Many detainees were beaten and at least three died of their injuries, including Mohsen Ruholamini, the son of a senior conservative politician. His death provoked such an outcry, even among the regime’s sympathisers, that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, was forced to close Kahrizak on the pretext that its facilities were sub-standard.
The Supreme Council for National Security set up a special committee to investigate. Its report has not been published but what is purportedly a leaked page has been posted on the internet.
It says that “rape, mental and physical torture, malnourishment and inhuman treatment of the detainees have been confirmed” and it demands that those responsible be punished. The authenticity of the document cannot be confirmed.
Dr Pourandarjani examined many of the detainees, including Mr Ruholamini.
Opposition websites claim that Dr Pourandarjani was detained for a week after Kahrizak was closed and forced to state that Mr Ruholamini had died of meningitis. He was released on bail and ordered to say nothing about what he had seen in the centre. He was threatened with imprisonment and the removal of his medical licence.
One reputable website, Mowjcamp, said that Dr Pourandarjani later told MPs on the special committee that he had examined Mr Ruholamini two days before he died. He said: “He was brought to me after being physically and severely tortured. He was in a grave physical condition and I had limited medical supplies, but I did my best to save him. It was then that I was threatened by the authorities of Kahrizak that if I disclose the cause of death and injuries of the detainees, I will cease to live.”
Dr Pourandarjani told friends that he feared for his safety and the authorities’ subsequent conduct has only fuelled their suspicions.
The official line is that Dr Pourandarjani died in his sleep of a heart attack on November 10 but his family has not been given a coroner’s report and his father, Reza Gholi Pourandarjani, says his non-smoking, clean- living son had no health problems.
The authorities washed and shrouded Dr Pourandarjani’s body while his family were absent and sent it to Tabriz, his home city, under strict surveillance. The funeral took place amid tight security and some of Dr Pourandarjani’s closest friends were barred from attending.
Masoud Pezeshkian, a former Minister of Health, heart surgeon and opposition member of the parliamentary health committee, said it was improbable that Dr Pourandarjani had died of a heart attack.
He said: “We will investigate this suspicious death until the precise cause of death is determined.” The reformist website Norooz stated: “There is no way the doctor could have committed suicide given his high spirits, strong religious faith and emotional links to his family and society as well as the talks he had the night before the incident.” His friends concurred.
Tom Porteous, the London director of Human Rights Watch, told The Times: “The circumstances of Pourandarjani’s reported death raise serious concerns. At the very least there’s a need for a full, independent and transparent inquiry.”
Four months after Kahrizak was closed the special committee’s report remains unpublished and no one has been prosecuted. Mowjcamp said that it was being supressed by the men it blamed for the abuses — Saeed Mortazavi, a former prosecutor-general, and General Ahmad-Reza Radan, the police chief.