In Iran, death by poison salad and a hair-cream overdose

Iranian whistleblower Dr. Ramin Pourandarjan was killed by a poison salad, says prosecutor, in the fourth explanation of his Nov. 10 death. It's not the first bizarre death in Iranian political circles.

By , Staff writer

ISTANBUL, TURKEY — Prosecutors in Iran says they don’t yet know whether the suspicious death of a doctor – Ramin Pourandarjan – was murder or suicide. But they know the cause: a poisoned salad.

At least, that's the latest in a case where authorities have already made a number of competing claims, from a car crash that never happened to suicide in a courthouse.

A poisoned salad might sound unlikely, but stranger causes of death have been known in Iranian political circles.

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The political and cultural war between hard-line conservatives and more moderate reformists has produced similar surprises – notably in 1999, when a key Iranian intelligence official supposedly committed suicide by drinking hair removal cream. Yes, that's the official line.

Why was Dr. Pourandarjani's salad laced with poison?

Ramin Pourandarjani was a 26-year-old doctor working at Iran’s Kahrizak detention facility. He witnessed abuses of Iranians taken there in the violent aftermath of Iran’s June presidential election. He then testified about the abusive treatment to a parliamentary committee. The facility was finally closed down, but not before former detainees said rape and torture were common practice.

Dr. Pourandarjani, as part of his military service, was assigned to the facility. He had seen the badly beaten son of the adviser of one of Iran’s conservative candidates, and one of the most high-profile detainees. ”

That detainee, Mohsen Rouhalamini, was brought to him “in a dreadful state after being subjected to extreme physical torture. He was in a critical state,” the opposition Mowjcamp Web site reported him telling parliamentary deputies, as translated by the AP.

When the detainee died, Pourandarjani reportedly said, “officials at Kahrizak threatened that if I disclosed the causes of the wounds of the injured at Kahrizak, I would not be able to live.”

Iranian opposition and media reports said the doctor was forced to change the cause of death to “meningitis."

The doctor was concerned about his safety after his revelations further tarnished Iran’s reputation after the contested June vote. More than 4,000 Iranians were arrested and scores killed during weeks of clashes with Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia. Accusations of rape and torture by Iranians who were detained have embarrassed the Islamic Republic, adding to what military commanders have called the most serious crisis for Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Accident? Suicide? Or what?

But Pourandarjani’s Nov. 10 death has been shrouded in a trail of false claims. Initially, authorities called the doctor’s father in Tabriz, Iran, saying his son had been in a car accident, broken his leg, and needed their consent for surgery. Then the story changed to a heart attack in his sleep.

Last week, Iran’s police commander claimed that Pourandarjani was facing charges over his Kahrizak duties, had killed himself in a courthouse lounge, and had left a note on his body.

Now, a salad brought to Pourandarjani by a delivery man was found to be laced with heart and blood pressure medicine, according to Iranian news reports, which quoted Tehran public prosecutor Abbas Dowlatabadi as saying that the doctor died of “poisoning by drugs.”

After Pourandarjani’s death, the father said that suicide was unlikely: “Just the night before his death, my child talked to me on the phone, it was around 8 or 9 p.m. He sounded great, very dignified, displaying no sign of someone about to commit suicide,” the father told the Associated Press from Tabriz last month. “He was even full of hope,” and making future plans.

Similar doubt of suicide attended the 1999 death of Saeed Emami, a deputy minister of intelligence who was charged with running a “rogue” death squad in Iran’s intelligence ministry.

The group had brutally murdered a string of dissident intellectuals in late 1998, and were found to have had target lists of 200 more reformists. Many Iranians say they believe Emami was deeply engaged in scores of assassinations of regime opponents in Europe and Iraq through the mid-1990s.

So few Iranians find credible the official report that he took his own life, by drinking hair removal cream, while having a bath.

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