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Condemned by Law: Assassination of Political Dissidents Abroad

Furthermore, there is substantial evidence suggesting that the governments of several European states were negligent (if not reckless) in fulfilling their duty to provide “effective remedy” following the murder of Iranian dissidents within their jurisdiction.147 This negligence may also constitute a violation of Article 2 of the Covenant. A particularly egregious example of a European state’s negligence in fulfilling its Article 2 responsibilities is the woeful response of the Austrian government to the murder of Dr. Abdol-Rahman Ghassemlou, which drew sharp criticism from numerous domestic and international outlets.148 As highlighted in the IHRDC’s underlying report on Iran’s campaign of foreign assassinations, the Austrian authorities’ negligence permeated all levels of the criminal investigation.149 Despite contradictory statements given by the main suspects and preliminary conclusions reached by the Austrian Special Anti- Terrorism Unit strongly suggesting the involvement of high ranking regime elements, the two suspects were escorted to the airport by Austrian police and allowed to leave the country.150 The preliminary conclusions reached by the Special Anti-Terrorism Unit were later bolstered by further evidence, and arrest warrants were eventually issued by the Austrian Public Prosecutor three months after the alleged suspects were escorted to the airport.151 When Dr. Ghassemlou’s widow filed suit against Austria alleging that the government willfully prevented authorities from promptly and effectively investigating her husband’s assassination due to improper political considerations, her case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.152

France’s denial of the Swiss government’s extradition request of suspects allegedly involved in the assassination of Kazem Rajavi provides yet another striking example of a European nation’s probable violation of Article 2.153 The denial came in the wake of a French court’s opinion affirming the legality of France’s extradition to Switzerland of two of the fugitives involved in the murder of Rajavi.154 In denying the extradition request, the office of the French Prime Minister cited “reasons connected to [France’s] national interest,” suggesting that like Austria, France was in part concerned that compliance with its Article 2 requirements may lead to a terrorist response by the Islamic Republic.155 Although France’s negligence did not implicate the investigation and judicial remedy requirements applicable in the case of Austria, its response likely failed to meet the general “effective remedy” objectives of the Covenant.

Like the Austrian reaction, France’s response casts serious doubts on the ability of some European governments to investigate or otherwise provide effective remedy in the wake of political assassinations and other acts of terrorism committed inside their territories. All governments directly affected by Iran’s campaign of political assassinations abroad must be held to account for any abrogation of their responsibilities under Article 2 of the Covenant. Condemnation should be particularly fierce where evidence suggests that these governments have willfully tainted the prosecutorial and judicial process by allowing improper outside influences or political pressures to affect the outcome of an investigation.

4.2. Other Guaranteed Rights

In addition to the critical protections provided by the ICCPR’s right to life, due process and remedies provisions, the Covenant provides guarantees protecting an individual’s freedom of thought,156 expression,157 assembly158 and association.159 These rights, like the right to life and fair hearing, are explicitly guaranteed by the Iranian Constitution.160 It is incontrovertible, however, that the regime’s assassination of dissidents abroad violates all of these protections. In fact, the regime’s campaign of assassinations abroad highlights the critical link between the Covenant’s right to life and other fundamental rights such as the freedom of thought. The extrajudicial murder of political dissidents abroad is but an extension of the regime’s systematic persecution of political, religious and ethnic dissidents within the country. It is an exercise in operational and psychological intimidation – a message to all dissidents seeking refuge abroad that the regime’s long arm of “justice” is not and will not be limited by national boundaries.

[147]See NO SAFE HAVEN, supra note 25, at 27-30.
[148]See id.
[149]See id.
[150]Id. at 28
[151]See id.
[152]Id. at 29.
[153]See id. at 32-33.
[154]See id.
[155]See id.
[156]ICCPR art. 18, supra note 10.
[157]Id. art. 19.
[158]Id. art. 21.
[159]Id. art. 22.
[160]IRI CONSTITUTION art. 23, supra note 119. Article 23 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic guarantees freedom of belief and thought. Id. Article 24 guarantees freedom of the press. Id. art. 24. Article 25 guarantees “secrecy of communication.” Id. art. 25. Article 26 guarantees freedom of association. Id. art. 26. Article 27 guarantees freedom of assembly. Id. art. 27. Additionally, articles 19 and 27 provide overarching rights such as the right to be free from discrimination and the right to human dignity. Id. arts. 19, 27.

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Political Killings, Assassinations, Political Freedom