Mansouri fled Iran sometime last year, taking with him hundreds of thousands of euros, which he allegedly received in bribes. When the corruption trial of the former deputy head of Iran’s judiciary began earlier this month, Mansouri’s name surfaced in the Iranian press as a co-defendant in the case.
That’s when his plans to remain in hiding hit a snag.
Human rights groups and press freedom watchdogs that had been quietly tracking Mansouri’s movements sounded the alarm, calling for the German authorities to arrest him over his illegal conviction of Iranian journalists in 2013. They argued that he was subject to prosecution under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
Faced with the possibility of simultaneously being put on trial in Europe for human rights abuses against journalists and for graft in his home country, Mansouri seemed to have reached a dead end. His travails offer a vivid portrait of just how rotten the upper echelons of Iranian power are and the lengths to which those men will go to avoid facing justice.
Abuses of power among Iran’s elite are so rampant that they have become systematic, in large part because they are encouraged. The most egregious examples seem to be found in the judiciary, where judges routinely trample with impunity on the rights of anyone deemed in opposition to the state.
But Mansouri’s saga is also a reminder that excesses of power that happen in places like Iran are no longer confined to the vacuums of the societies in which they happened.
“The domestic outcry about this case shows that there is a lot of support for prosecution of human rights violators who are immune from accountability in Iran, where systematic impunity has long been a problem,” said Tara Sepehri Far, a researcher at Human Rights Watch who investigates human rights abuses in Iran. “People are looking for ways to hold these people accountable. European countries can help do that.”
This month alone, at least five Iranian journalists have been convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.
But even if you detain journalists, information and images still travel fast. Bad guys can no longer assume they will get away with crimes by simply running away. Mansouri was a very bad guy.
The Iranian equivalent of a Supreme Court justice, Mansouri rose up the court system following the traditional Islamic Republic path to the top: doing the bidding of men more powerful than he was.
For several years, Mansouri was a judge at Tehran’s special court for culture and media, which is the well-known first stop for all journalists who face legal action in Iran. These judges sign the arrest warrants against journalists, extend their detentions and allow security forces to keep journalists in solitary confinement or interrogate them for extended periods without legal representation.
Along the way, Mansouri probably came to understand that in Iran’s depraved version of Islamic justice there are “principles” more valuable than law, God and country — namely greed and the quest for more power.
That’s not to say, though, that all of Mansouri’s misdeeds went unpunished.
In 2005, he was suspended from presiding over court proceedings for two years because he was found guilty of financial corruption. But that didn’t stop the then-head of Iran’s judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, a member of one of the Islamic Republic’s most influential families, from appointing Mansouri to Iran’s top court.
Larijani quickly assigned a high-profile bribery case against his own little brother to Mansouri’s court. Unsurprisingly, Mansouri cleared Larijani’s brother. In a part of the world where nepotism has been a guiding principle for as long as anyone can remember, Mansouri had done exactly what he was told to do.
Iran’s court system was once the most effective tool to silence the voices of Iranians who had the audacity to question the state. But today the system is padded with judges who take their directions from figures vying for power. That is how Iran’s legal system has become the most volatile political battlefield in the country.
Mansouri’s fate highlights that, but exactly what happened to him will likely remain a mystery.