Sadegh Ghotbzadeh (Persian: صادق قطبزاده, 24 February 1936 – 15 September 1982) was a close aide of Ayatollah Khomeini during his 1978 exile in France, and foreign minister (30 November 1979–August 1980) during the Iran hostage crisis following the Iranian Revolution. In 1982, he was executed for allegedly plotting the assassination of Ayatollah Khomeini and the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.
Early life and education
Ghotbzadeh was born in Isfahan in 1936. He had a sister and a brother.
As a student, he was active in the student branch of the National Front following the toppling of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. He left Iran in 1959 after being detained twice due to his opposition activities to the Shah's regime; he lived in Europe, the US and Canada. Ghotbzadeh was a supporter of the National Front of Iran. In addition he was one of the senior members of the Freedom Movement of Iran led by Mehdi Bazargan in the 1960s.
He attended Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service from 1959 to 1963. He contributed to the movement from the US. He was part of the more radical wing of the movement together with Ebrahim Yazdi, Mostafa Chamran and Ali Shariati. However, he was dismissed from the school before graduating due to his skipping studies and exams to lead protests against the government of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, including storming a posh party hosted by the then Iranian ambassador to the United States, the son-in-law of the Shah, Ardeshir Zahedi.
Ghotbzadeh left the US when his passport was revoked and moved to Algeria, Egypt, Syria and finally to Iraq, where he met Ayatollah Khomenei in 1963. In December of the same year Ghotbzadeh along with Chamran and Yazdi met the Egyptian authorities to establish an anti-Shah organization in the country, which was later called SAMA, special organization for unity and action. Chamran was chosen as its military head. Ghotbzadeh also developed a close relation with Musa Al Sadr, an Iranian-born Lebanese Shia cleric. During his stay in the Middle East, Ghotbzadeh was trained in Lebanon together with Iranian revolutionary militants and Palestinians.
In the late 1960s, Ghotbzadeh went to Canada for higher education and graduated from now defunct Notre Dame University College in Nelson, BC, in 1969. Next he settled in Paris using his Syrian passport which he obtained through the help of Musa Al Sadr. There he worked as a correspondent for the Syrian government daily, Al Thawra. The job, in fact, was fake and covered his opposition activity in the city.
Career and activities
Ghotbzadeh left the Freedom Movement in 1978. His father was a wealthy lumber merchant. He became a close aide of Ayatollah Khomeini when the latter was in exile in France. Ghotbzadeh along with Mostafa Chamran was part of the faction, called "Syrian mafia", in the court of Khomeini, and there was a feud between his group and the Libya-friendly group, led by Mohammad Montazeri. Ghotbzadeh was an Amal sympathizer and close to Lebanese Shii cleric Musa Al Sadr. Khomeini appointed him a member of the follow-up mission to search for fate of Al Sadr following the latter's disappearance in August 1978.
Ghotbzadeh accompanied Khomeini on his Air France flight back to Iran on 1 February 1979. It was Ghotbzadeh, who translated the Ayatollah's infamous response "Hichi (Nothing)" to journalist John Simpson's question: "Ayatollah, would you be so kind as to tell us how you feel about being back in Iran?" He was also Khomeini's translator in the press conference held in Tehran on 3 February 1979.
Following the Iranian Revolution Ghotbzadeh became a member of the revolutionary council when Bazargan and others left the council to form an interim government. In addition, he served as spokesperson of the Ayatollah. He was also appointed managing director of National Iranian Radio and Television (NIRT) on 11 February 1979. He tried to overhaul it to be in line with Islamic teachings, purging royalists, women, and leftists. This was criticised by a group of Iranian intellectuals and also the interim government. On 13 March, two women, one with a gun and the other with a knife, attacked Ghotbzadeh protesting the fundamentalist policies of the Islamic regime. Nearly 15,000 women also gathered outside the headquarters of the NIRT to protest his Islamist policy.
He was appointed foreign minister in late November 1979 after Abolhassan Banisadr resigned as acting foreign minister amid heated disputes on the fate of the American hostages. In early 1980 Ghotbzadeh was involved in early Iran hostage crisis negotiations in Paris with Carter aide Hamilton Jordan, which led to "a complex multi-stepped plan" which was torpedoed by Khomeini announcing the hostages' fate would be decided by the new Iranian parliament. On 6 September 1980 Ghotbzadeh was quoted by Agence France Presse saying that he had information that presidential candidate Ronald Reagan was "'trying to block a solution' to the hostage crisis. ... Two friends of Ghotbzadeh who spoke to him frequently during this period said that he insisted repeatedly that the Republicans were in contact with elements in Iran to try to block a hostage release." This allegation has never been proven. After the failure of the rescue attempt decided upon by President Carter, he qualified this decision an "act of war" against Iran. However, Ghotbzadeh was not committed anti-American during his tenure.
In January 1980, Ghotbzadeh ran for the presidency, but lost the election. His tenure as foreign minister ended in August 1980 and he was replaced by Karim Khodapanahi in the post. Following his retirement from politics Ghotbzadeh dealt with his family trade in the importing business and studied Islamic law.
Arrest and execution
Ghotbzadeh was first arrested on 7 November 1980 on charges of planning to kill Ayatollah Khomeini and criticising the Islamic Republic Party and put in the Evin prison. He was released on 10 November when Ayatollah Khomeini intervened.
On 8 April 1982, he was arrested along with a group of army officers and clerics (including a son-in-law of the religious leader Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari), all accused of plotting the assassination of Ayatollah Khomeini and the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.
At an April 1982 "press conference", hujjat al-Islam Mohammad Reyshahri, the chief judge of the newly created Military Revolutionary Tribunal, explained the plot with "an elaborate chart full of boxes and arrows linking Ghotbzadeh and the royalist officers, on one side, to `the feudalists, the leftist mini-groups, and the phony clerics` and on the other side, to the `National Front, Israel, the Pahlavis and the Socialist International.` The last four were linked to the CIA."
Rumors include the story that Ayatollah Khomeini initially did not want to execute Ghotbzadeh; but, he was persuaded to do so after hearing a tape of Ghotbzadeh in prison agreeing to pay money and provide the contact information of his allies in France in exchange for his freedom. Ghotbzadeh supposedly told this to a fellow prisoner specifically hired to entrap him. The veracity of these rumors is unknown.
Trial of Ghotbzadeh began in August 1982 and in the court he denied the accusations, but confirmed the existence of a plot to topple the Islamic government and to form a "real republic". His forced confessions, which were aired, are said to have come only after severe torture on the part of the Iranian Police. On late 15 September 1982 in Evin prison of Tehran, Ghotbzadeh was shot by a firing squad following a 26-day trial and after the Military Revolutionary Tribunal found him guilty and sentenced him to death. He was 46.
Abolhassan Banisadr, who had been in exile in Paris, stated that Ghotbzadeh's execution was "settling of accounts".
Ghotbzadeh never married. He was fluent in French and English.
In 1987, Canadian journalist Carole Jerome published a book, The man in the mirror: A story of love, revolution and treachery in Iran detailing both her romantic relationship with Ghotbzadeh and her journalistic account of the revolution. In his 1991 book, Inside the KGB: Myth and Reality, Vladimir Kuzichkin claimed that Ghotbzadeh had been an agent of the Soviet military intelligence service during his studies in the United States, adding that he had later detached himself from it. The book also alleged that the KGB had fabricated and placed a false CIA cable to an unnamed American agent in Iran in his residence, which was used as evidence to arrest and try him.
Ben Affleck's 2012 movie, Argo, used a real clip of Ghotbzadeh, showing him accusing Canada of “flagrantly violating international law.” Ghotbzadeh's great niece, Sanaz Ghajarrahimi, wrote and directed a play, named Red Wednesday, which was presented at the New Ohio Theatre in New York from 26 July to 3 August 2013. It was inspired by Ghotbzadeh's controversial life.