A few days after Azam Jangravi was arrested in Tehran two years ago for removing her head scarf to protest the country’s dress code, a judge told her that her action demonstrated she was mentally unfit and shouldn’t be allowed to work, study, or raise her daughter.
The judge called her a “prostitute” and threatened to destroy her life. He tried.
Jangravi told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda this week from Canadian exile that she was fired from her job at an Iranian research institute, prevented from finishing her studies at a private university, sentenced to three years in prison, and threatened by a court with losing her daughter to her ex-husband, who had not visited the child for several years.
Fearing the loss of her only child, Jangravi fled Iran.
She is one of several Iranians to have come forward with stories of their encounters with judge Gholamreza Mansuri, who himself became a fugitive from Iranian law before he was found dead on June 19 after an unexplained fall from a top floor of the Romanian hotel where he was staying.
The 52-year-old judge and cleric was “under judicial control” after being arrested by Interpol on June 12 following a request by Tehran.
He had been banned from leaving the country and was obliged to present himself to authorities regularly. Romanian authorities had set a July 10 deadline for Tehran to file extradition documents.
Iran’s judiciary was pursuing Mansuri for alleged corruption including some 500,000 euros ($566,425) in bribes, while Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other rights groups wanted him prosecuted for his role in the “arrest and torture” of at least 20 journalists in 2013.
RSF filed a complaint against Mansuri earlier this month in Germany, where he had first appeared after fleeing Iran. The judge had claimed that he left Iran for unspecified medical treatment and was planning to return as soon as travel restrictions over the coronavirus pandemic were lifted.
“He harassed many using his authority as a low-level official,” according to Shadi Sadr, a human rights lawyer who is the executive director of the London-based Justice for Iran and has interviewed several former detainees whose cases were handled by Mansuri.
Sadr said she believes Mansuri worked under the guidance of Iran’s intelligence and security apparatus.
"He served as their signature machine for both the Intelligence Ministry and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). He did what he was being told in cases that both bodies would build against journalists, Internet activists, and others," Sadr told RFE/RL.
Sadr said former detainees have mixed stories about how Mansuri treated them.
“Some say he treated them very harshly; others, including journalists I’ve talked to, said that he would joke with them but then he would send them to solitary confinement in Evin prison," she said, referring to a notorious facility in Tehran.
'One Doesn't Become A Thief Overnight'
After Mansuri emerged as a co-defendant in a major corruption trial that opened in Tehran earlier this month, several journalists whom he’d persecuted took to social media to publicize their plights.
One, Pouria Alami, quoted Mansuri as having told his mother that he issued his verdicts “for God’s sake.”
Mansuri was also accused of having ordered the arrest of siblings of the head of GEM TV, British national Saeed Karimian, to force him to shut down the Dubai-based entertainment network. Karimian was convicted in absentia by an Iranian court of spreading anti-state propaganda and later shot dead in Istanbul in 2017; the Turkish government suggested the killing was related to financial dealings.
Tehran-based lawyer Nemat Ahmadi called Mansuri a “little Mortazavi,” a reference to former Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, known as “The Butcher Of The Press” for his role in closing dozens of reformist publications and jailing journalists.
Nemati questioned how officials had given free rein to Mansuri to serve “in key posts.”
“One doesn’t become a thief overnight,” Ahmadi was quoted as saying by Iranian media.
Conservative former lawmaker Alireza Zakani recalled Mansuri as “a seemingly all-revolutionary, good-natured, and religious man” but suggested that behind his “revolutionary” demeanor hid heavy involvement in corruption.
The editor in chief of the conservative Jomhuri Eslami daily, Hojatoleslam Masih Mohajeri, said Mansuri’s case was “a warning” to the clerical establishment.
“Despite his criminal record, he had been able to access some of the most sensitive positions by appealing to this and that and by getting close to the highest officials of the judiciary,” Mohajeri wrote this week.
Sadr said the case highlights entrenched corruption in Iran’s judiciary, which has long been accused of being a tool of state repression.
“Corruption is so [widespread] in the judiciary that someone as corrupt as Mansuri was at one point put in charge of a court that dealt with land grabbing,” she said.
“They’re like a mafia group," she added.
Romanian media have cited police investigators suggesting that Mansuri’s death appeared to be a suicide, but according to RFE/RL’s Romanian Service the possibility of foul play has not been ruled out.
RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said on June 19 that Mansuri’s sudden death was a "denial of justice."
Jangravi, who now lives with her daughter in Canada, said she was disappointed that the cleric died before facing justice.
“I wanted him to be put on trial in a fair and transparent court,” she said.