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Iran and the Rule of Law

To take its place on the global stage, Iran must learn the lessons of a 1992 terrorist trial in Germany

March 17, 2014

After more than 30 years of endless waves of mutual recriminatory isolation, sanctions and episodes of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism, the Obama Administration and Iran are finally engaged in diplomatic negotiations on nuclear issues.

Success will depend on the international community’s trust in Iran’s commitment to fulfill any agreement. Iran must meet the challenge by virtue of a straightforward test — to follow the rule of law as a law-abiding country. In that context, it is worth recalling an episode in Germany in 1992.

In September 1992, while attending a German Social Democratic Party (SPD) Convention, four Iranian dissidents, three of them the highest-ranking members of Democratic Party of Kurdistan, were assassinated on the orders of the Iranian government at the Mykonos Restaurant in Berlin.

Bruno Jost, a dedicated and incorruptible German federal prosecutor, went to the scene of the crime and then charted an independent investigation. He doggedly pursued the case, despite all the pressure and even death threats by Iranians to drop it.

Finding justice

The investigation, trial and judgment that followed shook both Europe and Iran. It has been called one of the most significant European trials since the Nuremberg trials of World War II, trials which ultimately achieved something few could have predicted – justice.

Ultimately, the Berlin Court of Appeal under Presiding Judge Frithjof Kubsch pointedly noted that the trial had proved “Iran’s political leadership ordered the crime.” It was part of a ruthless pattern of political assassinations worldwide.

The Court’s judgment caused Germany and ultimately the European Union to temporarily sever diplomatic relations with Iran. This in turn caused the regime in Tehran to cease its terror operations on European soil, at least until the Burgas bus bombing of Israeli tourists in 2012.

The U.S. Federal Bar Association, for the first time in modern memory, on February 26, 2014 bestowed awards on two German professionals: Alexander von Stahl, Sr., Attorney General of Germany (1990-1993) who supported his prosecutor and Bruno Jost, who led the investigation into the assassinations. They were honored for their dedication to the rule of law.

Getting Iran to end sponsorship of terrorism

Governments and nongovernmental organizations have made endless efforts to encourage Iran to end its sponsorship for terrorism and to move toward democracy, but with little success so far.

These attempts have not accomplished what the Mykonos trial and the ensuing guilty verdict accomplished in its simplicity.

Roya Hakakian, author of “Assassins of the Turquoise Palace” – the best book on the case — reported on the assassinations at the Mykonos Restaurant and the subsequent trial in Berlin, Germany. In her book, she reveals that the case ultimately tested the resolve of the German justice system as a whole.

The Khomeini fatwas

The murders were part of a secret and global campaign of assassinations, ordered by Ayatollah Khomeini. He had issued a list of 500 fatwas against leading Iranian intellectuals and opposition members. By 1992, over 100 Iranian exiles had disappeared or been assassinated throughout the United States, Europe and elsewhere.

Prosecution was in doubt, after all, as Western politicians were engaged at the time in a critical dialog with Tehran that also boosted trade relations. Pursuing rumors of secret Iranian terror campaigns against exiles was seen as inconvenient to put it mildly. But ultimately, the German judiciary did persist despite all those political cross currents.

The painful history of the Iranian assassinations in the Berlin Restaurant Mykonos in 1992 can serve as a constructive example.

It underscores how the rule of law, clarity of message and unity of the international community — if steadfast and determined — can prevent Iranian terrorism. If applied in the contemporary context, it could be critical in preventing Tehran from reaching nuclear weapons and end its support for terrorism.

No trust

Without accepting the rule of law, Iran cannot find trust that it will adhere to its agreements. The Iranian regime seeks a sense of legitimacy and sympathy. It deserves neither without recognizing the rule of law.

And without that, the West will continue to wonder if any negotiations are going to fall apart at any moment. Iran’s foreign minister should not be surprised that West is not wholeheartedly committed to securing a full nuclear deal. A country that assassinates its exiles all over the world and flouts the rule of law regularly is not seen as a reliable partner.

It is never too late to do the right thing. Iran can choose to stand with those countries that accept the rule of law. If it does, it can find acceptance by the international community of nations.


Iran must meet a straightforward test -- to follow the rule of law as a law-abiding country.

Ayatollah Khomeini issued 500 fatwas on Iranian intellectuals and the opposition. Many disappeared or were killed.

It is never too late to do the right thing. Iran can choose to accept the rule of law.

By accepting the rule of law, Iran can find acceptance by the international community of nations.