‘Slipped the net’: Iranian judge’s mysterious death angers activists

Fugitive Iranian judge Gholamreza Mansouri plunged to his death from a top floor of his hotel in Bucharest last week. Above, forensic investigators work at the scene. (AFP)
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Updated 26 June 2020

‘Slipped the net’: Iranian judge’s mysterious death angers activists

  • Gholamreza Mansouri was wanted by Tehran on accusations he took a $560,000 bribe
  • He was initially arrested by Romanian authorities for extradition but then allowed to go free under judicial supervision

PARIS: The unexplained death of a fugitive Iranian judge, who plunged from a top floor of his hotel in Bucharest last week, has infuriated activists who say a rare chance has been missed to bring a senior Iranian official to justice over alleged rights violations.
Gholamreza Mansouri’s body was found by Romanian police on June 19, with the possibility of suicide so far their only lead, according to a police source.
But activists are furious that such a significant figure had not been held in custody to face eventual justice — and for his own protection.
Mansouri, 52, was wanted by Tehran on accusations he took a $560,000 bribe, part of a high-profile case that has seen 22 people go on trial, including former senior judiciary official Akbar Tabari.
Mansouri had fled Iran last year, first going to Germany and then moving on to Romania, and was the subject of an Iranian arrest warrant.
He was initially arrested by Romanian authorities for extradition but then allowed to go free under judicial supervision.
But activists in Europe also wanted him investigated for rights violations while in his post, which focused on culture and media cases.
The Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) filed a complaint against him with prosecutors in Germany on June 11 — and then two days later in Romania, when he moved there — alleging he was responsible for the persecution, detention and torture of Iranian journalists in a notorious 2013 crackdown.
“The facts against him were massive,” said Antoine Bernard, senior adviser on international strategic litigation with RSF, adding that there was a strong basis in both German and Romanian law to file the complaints.
He said the group had the testimony of 20 Iranian journalists accusing Mansouri of arbitrary arrest and detention, and treatment that was “at the very least inhumane and degrading and involved torture.”
He said that RSF was “outraged” by his death as well as the decision of the Romanian authorities not to detain Mansouri “for the sake of his own protection against any Iranian threat and against himself.”
The Justice for Iran NGO said it had made an appeal for witnesses to come forward after it emerged that Mansouri was in Europe.
It had already collected testimony from eight people who said they were the judge’s victims.
“Beyond reasonable doubt, I can confirm that Mansouri was responsible for several arbitrary arrests and detention, usually in solitary confinement, the closing down of online businesses and start-ups, and the persecution of the families of journalists and media activists,” the group’s executive director Shadi Sadr said.
But she said it had not received evidence he was responsible for torture or other crimes that could see him face trial in Germany or Romania under universal jurisdiction, where one state prosecutes a defendant for a crime committed on another foreign territory.
This, Sadr said, highlighted the difficulties faced by victims hoping to find justice abroad, “where there is little room for criminal prosecution.”
Kaveh Moussavi, a British lawyer who played an instrumental role in the arrest of a former Iranian prosecutor in Sweden last year on charges of involvement in the mass executions of prisoners in the late 1980s, said it was “extremely frustrating that he (Mansouri) slipped the net.”
Moussavi had been building a case against Mansouri based on charges he had “held hostage” in prison the family of Saeed Karimian, founder of the Istanbul-based Persian satellite television network Gem TV, who was gunned down in the Turkish city in 2017.
“Had we been able to bring him back and put him on trial... I am pretty sure we would have convicted him,” Moussavi said.
“If we had convicted this man, not a single member of the Iranian judiciary would have been able to step into the EU after that,” he said.
“We lost the chance of putting the entire Iranian judicial system on trial.”
The principle of universal jurisdiction has gained prominence in recent years, in particular with the civil war in Syria that has resulted in both oppressors and victims becoming refugees in Europe.
Two alleged former Syrian intelligence officers went on trial in Germany in April on charges of crimes against humanity in the first-ever court case over claims of state-sponsored torture by President Bashar Assad’s government.
RSF vowed that Mansouri’s death — whatever its cause — would not deter the group from pursuing other alleged rights violators from Iran and elsewhere.
“We urge prosecutors to move much faster when such situations do occur,” Bernard said.
For Sadr, the biggest loss from Mansouri’s death was the chance to hear how Iran’s system works from a figure who was at its heart.
“If he had remained in Europe and spoken out, Mansouri would have become someone whose confessions would have had a massive domino effect on other perpetrators to disclose information in response,” she said.


Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

Turkish Cypriot politician Ersin Tatar celebrates his election victory in Turkish-controlled northern Nicosia, Cyprus October 18, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 October 2020

Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

  • The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations”
  • Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

NICOSIA: Turkish Cypriots in breakaway northern Cyprus on Sunday narrowly elected right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar, backed by Ankara, in a run-off poll, at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tatar, 60, clinched his surprise victory in a second round of presidential elections, winning 51.7 percent of the vote, official results showed.
He edged out incumbent Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, 72, a supporter of reunification with the Greek Cypriot south of the divided island, leaving attempts to relaunch long-stalled UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.
Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
He controversially received the open backing of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the election campaign.
In a victory speech to hundreds of cheering and Turkish flag-waving supporters, Tatar thanked Turkey’s head of state and said: “We deserve our sovereignty — we are the voice of Turkish Cypriots.
“We are fighting to exist within the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, therefore our neighbors in the south and the world community should respect our fight for freedom.”
There was no immediate official reaction from the Greek Cypriot government or ruling party in the south of the island, which is a European Union member state, although opposition parties were quick to lament the outcome.
Erdogan was swift to celebrate the victory, which followed a high 67-percent turnout at the polls.
“I congratulate Ersin Tatar who has been elected president ... Turkey will continue to provide all types of efforts to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” he wrote on Twitter.

HIGHLIGHT

Ersin Tatar edged out incumbent Mustafa Akinc, leaving attempts to relaunch UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.

In a telephone call the same night, Erdogan said he was confident the two leaders would maintain close cooperation in all areas, “starting with the hydrocarbon linked activities in the eastern Mediterranean,” his office said.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has become an increasingly assertive regional power that is now engaged in a bitter dispute with Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters.
The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations,” while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months.
The second-round ballot was triggered after Tatar won 32 percent of the vote on Oct. 11 ahead of Akinci, who garnered just under 30 percent.
Akinci was tipped to secure a second term, having won the backing of Tufan Erhurman, a fellow social democrat who came third last time around.
After his defeat, Akinci, who had accused Ankara of meddling in the polls, thanked his supporters and said: “You know what happened ... I am not going to do politics on this.”
The TRNC, with a population of about 300,000, was established after the north was occupied by Turkey in 1974 in reaction to a coup that aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece.
Earlier in October, Turkish troops angered the Republic of Cyprus by reopening public access to the fenced-off seaside ghost town of Varosha for the first time since Turkish forces invaded the north.
The reopening was announced jointly by Erdogan and Tatar at a meeting in Ankara just days before the first round of polling.
It drew EU and UN criticism and sparked demonstrations in the Republic of Cyprus, which exercises its authority over the island’s south, separated from the TRNC by a UN-patrolled buffer zone.
On the eve of Sunday’s vote, Greek Cypriot demonstrators massed at a checkpoint along the so-called “Green Line,” holding signs that read “Cyprus is Greek,” in protest at the reopening of nearby Varosha to the Turkish Cypriots.
Turkey has repeatedly said it seeks to defend Turkish and Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Akinci’s relationship with Ankara had come under strain, especially after he described the prospect of the north’s annexation by Turkey as “horrible” in February.
When Akinci took office in 2015, he was hailed as the leader best placed to revive peace talks.
But hopes were dashed in July 2017 after UN-mediated negotiations collapsed in Switzerland, notably over Greek Cypriot demands for the withdrawal of the tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers still stationed in the TRNC.