Attendees at the funeral of Dariush Mehrjui and his wife, who are suspected victims of a state-sponsored crime, chanted anti-government slogans in Tehran on Wednesday.
“Death to Khamenei”, and “Death to the perpetrator of this crime!”, chanted participants. Videos posted on social media also show many women not wearing the compulsory hijab and people chanting “Woman, Life, Freedom”, the signature slogan of last year’s nationwide anti-government protests.
Many Iranians believe the ruthless stabbing of the renowned filmmaker and his wife Vahideh Mohammadifar at their country home in Karaj Saturday evening strongly suggests state-sponsored murders similar to the chain murders of intellectuals in the late 1990s for which intelligence ministry agents were eventually found responsible.
Asked by reporters after a cabinet meeting Wednesday, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi accused the opposition of making these allegations to “instill insecurity in the society.”
Several of Mehrjui’s cinema colleagues and his daughter delivered brief speeches at the funeral ceremony outside Roudaki (Vahdat) Hall, a performing arts complex in central Tehran, attended by hundreds of artists and others.
“I feel like mom and dad are holding my shoulders and telling me to stand strong. As daddy said, murderers are really among us,” Mona, the couple’s young daughter who had defiantly attended the ceremony without headscarf, told the mourners.
Mona was referring to a short video of her parents speaking in a dark room in a hushed, dramatic tone. “Long live freedom!” her mother says in the video clip and her father picks up from there. “Long live Freedom! Murderers are among us… We must be vigilant!” It is not clear in what context and when the scene was filmed.
The revered eighty-three-year-old director refrained from engaging in politics for many years. However, over the past year, he subtly expressed support for the ongoing Woman, Life, Freedom anti-regime movement. This support is speculated to be a possible reason for him being targeted by the state, according to some allegations.
Participants also expressed their disapproval by booing writer and actor Marzieh Boroumand who leads Khaneh Cinema, the largest association of filmmakers and actors in Iran, of which Mehrjui was also a member. This disapproval came during her speech when she referred to Israel as the Zionist regime.
Addressing the authorities, Boroumand said cinema people would fight alongside them with “Israel, the Zionist regime” if they were treated better.
Tehran’s support for Hamas and other militant organizations in the Middle East has led many Iranians to adopt a contrasting stance, favoring Israel in its military actions and condemning Hamas as the party that started the recent war in Gaza.
Police has so far twice refuted news of arrests reported by the media. Photos of the murder scene published by the media show grave negligence in securing the crime scene including by police officials who are seen walking around and giving interviews in the rooms where the murders took place without taking any precautions not to contaminate the scene.
The details of the fatal stabbing of Mehrjui and his wife evoke the state murders of dissident politician Dariush Forouhar and his wife Parvaneh Eskandari in November 1998 for many Iranians.
Naser Zarafshan who represented the families of some of the victims of the notorious chain murders in late 90s, including the Forouhars, has also highlighted that the similarities between the two double murders are striking. Those responsible for these murders sought leaving a striking mark rather than just killing a person, Zarafshan said while expressing concern over a cover up.
In a commentary published by the reformist Etemad newspaper on Tuesday, another prominent lawyer, Kambiz Nowrouzi argued that the manner of the killings which he said were very “theatrical,” and the fact that not much seems to have been stolen from the house, strongly suggest that the couple were killed to “terrify others, or even the whole society”.