22 May 1958|
|Died||15 March 1990
Farzad Bazoft (22 May 1958 – 15 March 1990) was an Iranian-born journalist who settled in the United Kingdom in the mid-1970s. He worked as a freelance reporter for The Observer. He was arrested by Iraqi authorities and executed in 1990 after being convicted of spying for Israel while working in Iraq.
Bazoft came to live in the United Kingdom in 1975 at the age of 16. After finishing his education he began a career as a freelance journalist, contributing articles about the Middle East and, in particular, the Iran-Iraq war to news outlets including The Observer and the BBC. In 1989 he was invited by the Iraqi government to come to Iraq along with other journalists to report on elections being held in Kurdistan. Before Bazoft set off, he learned about a mysterious explosion that had occurred on 19 September 1989 at the al-Iskandaria military complex, 50 kilometres (31 mi) south of Baghdad. The heavy detonation was heard as far away as Baghdad. Despite Saddam Hussein's personal order to keep the matter secret, rumours began to spread that the accident happened in a rocket factory's assembly line, killing dozens of Egyptian technicians involved in Iraq's secret development of medium-range ballistic missiles.
Smelling a likely scoop, Bazoft headed for al-Hilla to search for details. He allegedly undertook his investigation with the approval of Iraqi officials. Observer editor Donald Trelford said in response to later events: "Farzad Bazoft is not a spy. He is a reporter who went to do a story. He said in advance the story he was going to do... He told the Baghdad government where he wanted to go... This is not the action of a spy, this is the action of a reporter." Other western reporters were also interested in the story, but a camera crew from Independent Television News was stopped by Iraqi authorities before they could reach the plant. Bazoft got through, driven by British nurse Daphne Parish. Bazoft also asked military personnel in Baghdad hotels and casinos what they knew and was reported by the hotel security to Iraqi Intelligence Service.
Bazoft was arrested at Baghdad airport in September 1989, while waiting for his flight back to London. He had 34 photographs of the area of al-Hilla in his luggage, and some soil from near the factory. After six weeks in custody at the Abu Ghraib prison, and after beatings, Bazoft was put in front of TV cameras on 1 November and confessed to being an Israeli agent. Parish had also been arrested by Iraqi authorities. Before their trial, President Saddam Hussein wrote to British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, assuring her that Bazoft and Parish would get a fair trial.
Following a one-day trial behind closed doors, lacking any conclusive evidence of his guilt, Bazoft was convicted and sentenced to death on 10 March 1990. Parish was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but she was released on 16 July 1990 following a plea for clemency from Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda.
His body was placed in a rough wooden crate and despatched to his family in the United Kingdom. Documents seized during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 confirm that Saddam Hussein personally stressed the need for Bazoft's execution to take place before Ramadan (which began that year on 16 March), to quash attempts for clemency by the British government.
Immediately after the execution, the British recalled their ambassador to Iraq and cancelled all ministerial visits. Bazoft's story triggered widespread outrage in the West and contributed to international isolation of Saddam's regime. Months after the incident, on 2 August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, sparking the first Gulf War.
In 2003, The Observer tracked down Kadem Askar, the colonel in the Iraqi intelligence service who conducted the initial interrogation of Bazoft. He admitted that he knew Bazoft was innocent, but that he was powerless to obstruct Saddam Hussein's orders to have him convicted and executed. That Hussein himself ordered the execution of Bazoft is confirmed in transcripts of taped meetings made by the Hussein regime and seized during the 2003 invasion.
- Donald Trelford (14 March 2010). "Executed by Saddam Hussein: the death of Observer reporter Farzad Bazoft, 20 years on". The Observer. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
- "1990: Observer journalist executed in Iraq". BBC News. 10 March 1990. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
- Leader (18 March 1990). "Farzad Bazoft". The Observer. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
- Ed Vulliamy (18 May 2003). "Proved innocent". The Observer. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
- Robert Fisk: The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, p. 169, ISBN 978-1-4000-7517-1
- Reuters (17 July 1990). "Iraq frees British nurse in spy case". New Strait Times. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
- Donald Trelford (18 May 2003). "My colleague was simply a journalist after a scoop". The Observer. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
- Luke Harding (26 October 2011). "Saddam Hussein ordered execution of journalist Farzad Bazoft, records reveal". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 October 2011.
- "Butchery in Baghdad". New York Times. 16 March 1990. Retrieved 3 September 2011.