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Covert Terror: Iran’s Parallel Intelligence Apparatus

Before arresting their targets, PIA agents conducted comprehensive and thorough investigations into individuals’ private lives, day-to-day activities and social contacts. These investigations often covered the target’s financial accounts, as well as telephone calls both made and received up to several months prior to the subject’s arrest. Evidence suggests that the investigations were not initiated with the purpose of bringing formal charges against the individual. Rather, they were essentially fishing expeditions intended to provide PIA units with compromising or embarrassing information which could later be used to coerce subjects into curbing their political activities.

PIA operatives not only conducted illegal investigations into the private lives of their targets, but also systematically and routinely arrested individuals without providing a legal basis for their actions or affording the arrestees adequate due process. The arbitrary arrests were frequently conducted by plainclothes agents who failed to present their victims with valid arrest warrants. Many of the individuals interviewed by IHRDC said that they were picked up by plainclothes agents from law enforcement and security units of the Ministry of Intelligence and NAJA’s Amaken branch, officially known as the General Directorate of Supervising Public Premises. In several instances, witnesses told IHRDC that family members were either arrested or threatened if PIA operatives could not find their targets.

PIA abductions often involved physical duress, beatings and violence. The arrest of women’s rights activist Fariba Davoodi-Mohajer in early 2001 is a case in point. She described to IHRDC how on a January afternoon, she was bringing her daughter home from school when she noticed some Nissan SUVs parked near her house. As she entered her home, seven or eight plainclothes men forced their way in without asking her permission or producing an arrest warrant. When she asked for their identities and questioned why they were there, they began beating her and attempted to drag her over to their vehicles. She resisted. When she put her leg inside the door frame, someone pushed the door into her leg, forcing her to give in. Her daughter screamed for help, and her husband and son attempted to prevent her abduction. Neighbors also arrived. The fight dragged on until more agents arrived in seven or eight cars to help her abductors and prevent her neighbors from leaving their homes.

In other cases, uniformed law enforcement agents openly participated in the unlawful arrests of dissidents. These law enforcement agents conducted their operations using the same illegal methods employed by the plainclothes agents. The similarities in the agents’ modus operandi strongly suggest the existence of an operational link between PIA agents and regular law enforcement units, especially those affiliated with the intelligence functions of NAJA’s Amaken branch.

According to witnesses interviewed by IHRDC, PIA units often searched the homes of victims either contemporaneously with unlawful arrests, or several hours or days after the victims had been transferred to an illegal detention facility. These searches were almost invariably conducted by plainclothes agents linked to law enforcement units, such as NAJA’s Amaken branch or the Ministry of Intelligence, and often without a warrant or explanation as to why the searches were taking place.

Many of the witnesses described the aggressive and violent manner in which PIA agents searched their homes and seized personal articles. Like the investigations conducted prior to arresting targets, the searches were conducted in a manner that suggested the agents were on fishing expeditions for items that could be used against the suspect.

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