Mysterious Death of Young Iranian Doctor Raises Questions About Official Account

November 25, 2009

Dr. Ramin PourandarjaniWhen the father of Dr. Ramin Pourandarjani was contacted by Iranian authorities, telling him that his 26-year-old son had broken his leg in an accident, and that his permission was needed for an operation, the concerned father rushed to Tehran.  Upon his arrival he discovered that his son was in fact dead. The government has claimed that the young doctor committed suicide, even that a note had been found near his body suggesting that he had been suffering from depression. But Reza-Qoli Pourandarjani insists that he talked to his son the night before his death and that he had been in good spirits.

The mysterious circumstances around Dr. Pourandarjani’s death have raised questions about the authorities’ account. Dr. Pourandarjani, whose body was found on November 10 in a room at Tehran Police Headquarters, had been doing his required military service by tending to those held in the notorious Kahrizak Detention Center, which was used to detain large numbers of people arrested during the unrest following the June 12 Iranian presidential elections.

There were persistent reports of widespread and brutal torture of detainees at Kahrizak. At least three people were tortured to death there, including Mohsen Rouhalamini, the son of a top aide to presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei, who reportedly died of cardiac arrest and bleeding in his lungs two weeks after he was detained on 9 July; according to some reports, his body bore the marks of severe torture, including disfiguring facial injuries. The Iranian authorities were not able to ignore the reports of torture, and on July 29, the Kahrizak facility was closed by order of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Officials admitted that abuses had taken place and announced that a special parliamentary committee would be investigating.

Dr. Pourandarjani attended the detainees who suffered from torture and ill-treatment including, reportedly, Mohsen Rouhalamini. He was interviewed by the parliamentary committee charged with investigating allegations of abuses. Before his death he reportedly received threats to prevent him from revealing the abuses he had witnessed at Kahrizak. He had also reportedly been forced to say that one detainee had died of meningitis and not of torture.

The fact that the Iranian authorities put out multiple versions of what happened to Dr. Pourandarjani does not inspire confidence that the public has been told the truth about the cause of his death. After first telling his father that he had suffered a broken leg, they claimed he had died of a heart attack. They later said he had been poisoned.  Finally they reported that he had committed suicide.

Amnesty International, together with Physicians for Human Rights and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, just issued a joint letter to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, welcoming the announcement by Dowlatabadi’s office that an investigation into the death would be taking place, and urging that the investigation be fully impartial, thorough and independent, and that international experts be permitted to take part, in order to ensure the integrity and transparency of the investigation.

If the Iranian authorities have nothing to hide, they should welcome the opportunity to dispel the cloud of doubt and suspicion surrounding the death of Dr. Pourandarjani by inviting international experts to participate; Physicians for Human Rights has offered to send a forensic team to assist in the investigation.

Amnesty International urges that the investigation into Dr. Pourandarjani’s death fully comply with the United Nations Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions.