Mohammad Karimi was driving his car between two towns in the mountainous region of western Iran on an evening in early October. The vehicle was laden with satellite dishes, illegal under Iranian law, while his wife and two young children awaited his return.
As he drove in that fateful night, a single bullet pierced his windscreen and struck him in the head. He died instantly.
Mohammad was the latest kulbar — border couriers who carry untaxed goods coming from Iraq or Turkey for a small fee — to be killed by Iranian border police. The police have killed close to 100 of these petty smugglers over the last two years, treating them like dangerous criminals.
While the official unemployment rate among the youth in Iran is 26%, the figure in the Kurdish areas in the west and northwest of the country is much higher, forcing people like Mohammad to resort to the perilous profession of smuggling goods across international borders.
“Unemployment in the province has become a serious dilemma,” Salar Muradi, a parliament member from Kurdistan province, stated in the Iranian parliament several months ago.
In his recent report to the UN General Assembly, UN Special Rapporteur on Iran Ahmed Shaheed highlighted the “indiscriminate killings of kulbaran in violation of the domestic laws and international obligations of Iran.”
Mohammad’s mother, Hajya Malek Khedryan, speaking to Al-Monitor via telephone from Iran, said that her son was only trying to make a living for his young family. She said, “There were no warning shots; they just fired at his car and a bullet hit him in the head and killed him instantly.”