Honoring Defenders of Justice

The attorneys who prosecuted Iranian-backed assassins finally get their due.

This Sept. 18, 1992, photo shows German police in front of the restaurant Mykonos in Berlin the day after four Kurdish-Iranian dissidents leaders were killed there.

This Sept. 18, 1992, photo shows German police in front of the restaurant Mykonos in Berlin the day after four Kurdish-Iranian dissidents leaders were killed there.

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Bonn’s political leaders wanted a quiet deportation and a private rebuke. They were furious when Jost in March 1993 drew up an indictment against the killers for “a most heinous act of murder against four human beings in the city of Berlin.” Early on in his investigation, Jost had gone to Vienna to investigate the murder of a charismatic Kurd. He discovered that the Austrians had quickly traced the trail of the killer to the Iranian embassy. It was an open-and-shut case for indictment, but the Austrians had just done an arms deal with Tehran. They quietly escorted the prisoner to an escape plane.

Jost had originally thought the Mykonos killings might be the work of a rival Kurdish group. He began to put the dots of blood together. It led to the next explosive sentence in his indictment: “Kazem Darabi, the agent who organized the murders, acted upon the orders of the intelligence ministry of Iran.”

Von Stahl was immediately ordered to say nothing of this to anyone, but to send the draft to the justice ministry, routine enough, but also to the chancellery and foreign minister. Von Stahl was a conservative, a member of the party that favored being friends with Iran. But his respect for the law was too deep for compromise. He rightly regarded it as a breach of the independence of the prosecutor’s office. Then the chancellery and foreign ministry sat on the document, and sat and sat. A month later, von Stahl asked what was happening. What indictment? was the answer. Sorry, it seems we’ve lost it.

It was not until May of 1993 that the indictment reached Berlin’s highest criminal court. Two months later von Stahl was sacked on the pretense of his mishandling of a minor shooting incident.

The pressures on the isolated Jost intensified. The foreign ministry circulated smears about “that f-----g Bruno Jost” who was undoing all their efforts to work with Iran. Jost was exhausted by the everlasting delays in the trial. He had no political protectors. Crowds at Qom demanded death for the infidel Jost. Chancellor Helmut Kohl didn’t protest. He sent a conciliatory letter to Tehran to say how sorry he was that religious feelings had been offended.

But the Bonn-Tehran honeymoon ended with a bang when the verdicts vindicated Jost’s charges against Iran. The criminals were eventually sentenced to 23 years in prison. Germany expelled the Iranian ambassador in Berlin. All the European states suspended diplomatic relations for six months. And the Iranians seemed to have ended the terror, though they staged a hero’s welcome for the furtive Darabi, a grocer by trade, when he was released in 2007 by Germany after 10 years of his sentence.

The presentation of the awards to Jost and von Stahl next week have intriguing resonances. In the 1930s, the struggle for human rights was lost in the Nazi violence in Berlin’s streets. Here it was won in a Berlin courtroom. And as Iran celebrates the 35th year of its violent revolution, the United States celebrates a reaffirmation of the rule of law. 

Clarified on Feb. 25, 2014: The original version of this story should have noted that the first assassin fired the machine gun from within the bag.