Hear Iranian People’s Call for Justice
In summer of 1988, over 30,000 political prisoners were summarily executed throughout Iran, based on a Fatwa (religious decree) issued by Khomeini. The Fatwa reads, “it is decreed that those who are in prisons throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin [Mojahedin MEK/PMOI], are waging war on God and are condemned to execution.” Adding, “Those who are making the decisions must not hesitate, nor show any doubt or be concerned with details. They must try to be “most ferocious against infidels.
For nearly 30 years, the families of the victims of mass executions in 1988 have been seeking answers but their voices have been silenced in Iran and ignored by the international community.
The summer of 2016 began a turning point in the movement seeking justice in efforts to end impunity and prevent the continuation of this cycle which still continues in Iran, with the highest recorded number of executions per capita to date.
The movement to obtain justice, was launched by the Iranian opposition on August 2, 2016, demanding the names of the victims, the locations of their graves, identification of perpetrators, and prosecution of those responsible for this heinous crime, classified as a crime against humanity.
Hundreds of new documents on the victims and their places of burial have been brought together in this international movement.
A number of survivors and witnesses of the 1988 massacre in Iran have testified about the crimes they have witnessed, leading to international condemnation of this crime by governing bodies and renowned organizations; building tremendous pressure on the regime.
Audio file revives calls for inquiry into 1988 massacre
On August 9, 2016, one week after the launch of the Call for Justice movement, an audio file of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri bitterly criticizing the authorities’ 1988 mass executions was released for the first time and sent shock waves throughout the regime and reopened old wounds from the regime’s darkest and most secretive chapters.
The late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri was heir apparent to the founder of the clerical regime at the time and was ousted for opposing the regime’s conduct during the 1988 massacre.
On the 28th anniversary of the bleak summer of 1988, Montazeri’s official website, now run by his family, published the 40-minute audio file from a meeting he held in the first weeks of the massacre in1988 with members of the Death Committee in charge of carring out the mass executions in prisons in Tehran and its surrounding cities.
Those present in the meeting were Ebrahim Raisi, Hossein Ali Nayyeri, Morteza Eshraghi, and Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, who were Tehran’s Deputy Prosecutor, Tehran’s Prosecutor; Prosecutor General; and Intelligence Ministry’s representative in Evin Prison, respectively, at the time.
In the audio recording, Ayatollah Montazeri can be heard warning the Death Committee members that they would be remembered as “cruel criminals.” He said, “I believe this is the greatest crime committed in the Islamic Republic…and history will condemn us for it.”
Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri also said the executions included “pregnant women and 15-year-old girls”.
The audio tape has served as an important document as it contains explicit confessions by those responsible for the massacre regarding their participation in an ongoing genocide.
It shows that Khomeini and his entourage contravened even their own procedures to extend and expedite the executions and were directly involved in the massacre.
Another issue which changed the scope of the massacre was direct reference made by Montazeri stating that Khomeini had been planning this massacre from at least 2 years before, thus it was not a quick retaliation to the activities of the MEK and the Eternal Light operation of the NLA which the regime has always raised to justify this heinous crime.; noting thatAhmad Khomeini has repeatedly stated, Khomeini had decided to execute all “the Mojahedin, including those who read their newspaper, or passed out their flyers.”
Another issue which is addressed in the conversation is the vast numbers of those massacred and the vicious methods in which the executions were carried out. In talking to Montazeri, the henchmen who had thousands of people executed in Tehran, claimed to be moderates who opposed the extremism undertaken in prisons of other cities.
Nevertheless, a few months later, Khomeini adopted a policy of denial and total rejection of the truth. In a letter to Montazeri, he wrote that “the MEK/PMOI took advantage of your words and writings to make a big deal out of ‘a very limited number’ of those executed and you can see what a priceless service you have done to the Arrogance.”
It can be seen how Khomeini personally formulated the policy of denying or minimizing their crimes or attributing them to the MEK/PMOI, since the outset.
Social impact of the Call for Justice movement
In April 2017, Ebrahim Raisi, protégé of the mullahs’ Supreme Leader, was introduced as the ideal candidate of Khamenei’s faction in the 2017 presidential election.
Immediately, videos were published online defending the 1988 massacre, in which Ebrahim Raisi was involved as part of a special committee.
It is not clear who or what organization produced the videos, but some of them were posted by Raisi’s official campaign page on the Telegram messaging app, which is widely used in Iran.
In 1988, Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the regime, appointed Ebrahim Raisi, who was the deputy prosecutor of Tehran at the time, to the “Death Committee,” which oversaw issuing the verdicts for the extra judicial executions during the 1988 massacre.
Raisi was a low-ranking cleric without adequate religious credentials, which has climbed up in the regime for serving in the regime’s repressive agencies since he was 20.
During the regime’s sham Presidential elections, the role Raisi played in the 1988 massacre came into spotlight. Civil rights activists and human rights groups have been publicly criticizing him for his role.
Raisi’s official campaign page on Telegram, Raisi Amad (Raisi has Arrived), responded by posting a three-minute video titled, “Wolves,” to justify the executions.
The video claimed the victims were executed because they were all members of the banned Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), which launched armed attacks against Iran in the 1980s.
Raisi’s nomination aroused a wave of outrage in society where people made numerous slogans against Raisi’s candidacy such as “killer of ‘88.”
While openly speaking about the 1988 massacre was previously off-limits in Iran, in the light of the expansion and growth of the Call-for-Justice movement, people dared to speak out against Raisi.
“Today’s Iran is not the same as the Tehran prosecutor’s office in the summer of 1988,” said a student from Yazd University at an on-campus event in late April.
The Call-for-Justice movement created a massive wave of opposition to Raisi as a perpetrator of the 1988 massacre. In such atmosphere, the family of Ayatollah Montazeri felt safe to publish a previously held-secret tape recording, and the mullahs’ President, Hassan Rouhani, felt safe to accuse his rival of just having issued death and prison sentences for three decades, all of which led to Raisi’s loss in the election on May 19, 2017.
After losing the presidential election and looting the property of the people of Iran in Astan-e- Quds, Khamenei appointed Raisi as the head of the judiciary on March 7, 2019. Therefore, despite a life full of slaughter and cutting hands which he calls it his honor, he has been positioned in a place with more freedom to suppress and loot.
Official measures against the Call for Justice movement
Under such pressures, at least 21 senior officials came to the scene attesting to the massacre and defending it, an issue which they had tried to minimize and not address for nearly 3 decades
The regime’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, expressed anger over why the 1988 massacre is being surrounded by an aura of innocence. These confessions were new documents on the ruling mullahs’ crime against humanity.
The clerical regime’s leaders have constantly backed the perpetrators and those directly responsible for the massacre. Many have been appointed to senior political and judicial positions in past 3 decades.
Iranian regime’s appoints perpetrators of 1988 massacre to power
The highest officials in charge of the 1988 massacre and members of the Death Committees have always been among senior officials running the regime. Including, the regime’s Chief Justice and head of the Judiciary, the Head of the Supreme Court and the so-called Justice Minister, all of whom have remained immune. They benefit from a continuing atmosphere of secrecy and impunity in the country.
- Ebrahim Raisi, In March 2019, Ali Khamenei, appointed Raisi as Iran’s Chief Justice, sparking concern from rights activists over his involvement in the execution of thousands of people in the 1980s.
He was Tehran’s Deputy Prosecutor in 1988 and member of the Tehran “Death Committee”. Raisi was a Presidential candidate in 2017 and has held several high-profile positions, including as the country’s prosecutor general until 2016; Head of Qods Razavi Endowment Foundation; President of Governing Board of the Fifth Assembly of Experts; member of the State Expediency Discernment Council;
As Iran’s Chief Justice, Raisi holds significant power in a country that has long used its powerful legal system to crack down on political dissent.
- Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, who served Hassan Rouhani’s Minister of Justice between 2013 and 2017, represented the ministry of intelligence in the Tehran “Death Committee”. Mostafa Pour Mohammadi is now an advisor to Iranian Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi.
- Alireza Avaei, currently minister of justice, was the prosecutor general of Dezful in Khuzestan province and participated in the “Death Committee” in that city.
- Hossein Ali Nayyeri, who acted as Shari’a judge in the Tehran “Death Committee”, is today head of the Supreme Disciplinary Court for Judges.
- Mohammad Hossein Ahmadi, who participated in the Khuzestan “Death Committee”, is currently a member of the Assembly of Experts, a constitutional body that has the power to appoint or dismiss Iran’s Supreme Leader.
Prosecution of Families Seeking Truth and Justice
Throughout the last 3 decades, not only have the families and relatives of the massacred political prisoners been denied the right to learn about why their loved ones have been executed, or where they’ve been buried, but they are continuously being harassed, some serving long prison terms only for seeking answers.
Maryam Akbari Monfared is one of those targeted for seeking justice, four of her siblings have been executed during her childhood in the early 80s, two in the massacre of 1988
Arrested in December 2009, she was sentenced to 15 years in prison, partially for seeking information about the whereabouts of her siblings’ burial sites. When objecting to her sentence, the judge told her she was paying the price for her siblings who were executed in 1988 by the regime for their opposition.
In February 2017 while in detention, Maryam Akbari-Monfared filed a complaint with the UN, seeking an official investigation into the mass killings of political prisoners, including her siblings, Roghieh and Abdolreza, executed during the massacre.
In reprisal, authorities denied her access to medical treatment. The assistant prosecutor of Evin Prison told her family her medical care arrangements have been cancelled because she has become too “brazen”.
Raheleh Rahemipour, 65, has been sentenced by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court to one year in prison on April 9, 2019, on the charge of “propagating against the state.”
As the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances started to look into her complaint and inquired the Iranian authorities about her brother and niece, the regime began pressuring and harassing her.
Ms. Rahemipour’s brother, Hossein Rahemipour, a dentist, was arrested along with his pregnant wife in 1983. In spring of 1984, the Rahemipour family was informed that the child, Golrou, was born in Evin Prison but had later died. In late summer of the same year, Hossein was executed. His death was announced to his family by phone.
The Call for Justice movement shed light on the fact that 1988 executions are not a closed dossier of decades ago. These crimes are in fact ongoing. Thousands of Iranian families have been kept in the dark for more than three decades about their loved ones’ fate, remains and burial sites.
Furthermore, the Iranian authorities continue to harass, threat and attack them whenever they have tried to seek justice about their loved ones.
Regime officials blatantly defend 1988 massacre
The 1988 dossier was once considered a highly controversial matter and no senior Iranian official would raise the issue, all knowing their involvement would eventually unearth and play against their ultimate interests.
But in recent years, several regime officials have had to openly defend their crimes in reaction to the rise of the Call for Justice movement, even describing those in charge of the massacre as worthy of receiving “medals of honour”. And still, they continue to enjoy impunity.
In its December 2018 report on the 1988 massacre, Amnesty International pointed out that Iran faced “an immunity crisis,” and that “the continuity of crimes in Iran are directly related to the impunity the Iranian regime officials enjoy.”
In July 2019, Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, openly defended the 1988 massacre of political prisoners as necessary acts against “enemies” in a time of war.
In a videotaped interview with the state-run magazine, Mosalas on July 24, 2019, Pour Mohammadi, who is now an advisor to Iranian Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi said: “During a war if we fire a mortar at the enemy and it lands in the adjacent village, do we have to answer about why the village was hit?” He added: “Are we expected to talk about legal matters, protecting citizens and human rights in the middle of a battlefield?”
In the interview, Pour Mohammadi also warned that the “war” with the PMOI/MEK was ongoing: “We still haven’t settled scores. We will respond to all questions after the score is settled.”
Earlier, Pour Mohammadi had described the Death Committees decisions as “God’s orders”, affirming that he was proud of carrying out the verdict.
Deploring Pour Mohammadi’s remarks, Amnesty International reiterated in a July 30 statement, “Defending the mass extrajudicial executions of 1988 provide shocking confirmation of the [Islamic Republic] authorities’ willful flouting of international human rights law both at the time and now and a stark reminder of the sense of impunity that senior officials linked to the killings enjoy.”
This is not the first time Pour Mohammadi has defended the 1988 massacres.
In August 2016, he was quoted boasting about his role saying, “We are proud to have carried out God’s commandment concerning the [PMOI]”, and openly declared that he had not “lost any sleep all these years” over the killings.
Iranian regime destroys crucial evidence
Since 1988, the Iranian regime has taken numerous measures across Iran endeavoring to eliminate all traces of the mass graves belonging to the victims of the 1988 massacre.
They have stepped up such measures following the social backlash and people seeking knowledge on the massacre, by building new buildings and roads on these graveyards or razing and turning them into new cemeteries, among others.
In mid-2017, the authorities attempted to destroy mass graves of about 44 victims of the 1988 massacre in the southwestern Ahvaz city. Photos emerged showing bulldozers working on a construction project directly alongside the mass grave site, as well as piles of dirt and construction debris surrounding the grave.
In a June 2017 statement Amnesty International said, “The desecration of a mass grave site in Ahvaz, southern Iran that contains the remains of at least 44 people who were extrajudicially executed would destroy vital forensic evidence and scupper opportunities for justice for the mass prisoner killings that took place across the country in 1988.”
Under the International pressure regime authorities were subsequently compelled to halt the destruction. However, in 2018, they recommenced the destruction of the graves at great speed.
In July 2018, some of the bereaved families who visited the site learned that the graves of their loved ones had been destroyed.
The site was situated behind Behesht-Abad Cemetery, District 5 of the Padad area in the southwestern city of Ahvaz.
in March 2017, the authorities apparently attempted to eliminate all trace of the 1988 massacre in another site in the north-eastern city of Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi province.
When several the victims’ families went to Mashhad’s Behesht Reza Cemetery, where up to 170 political prisoners are believed to be buried, they saw the flat area of the site was covered with soil, raising concern that the site is at risk of damage by the regime authorities.
The destruction of the graves of the mass graves is a major crime in itself whose masterminds and perpetrators must face justice and be held accountable.
Mass graves discovered in 2016
In late 2016, following the release of Ayatollah Montazeri’s audio tape, the families of the victims of the 1988 massacre provided information confirming the discovery of at least eight mass graves.
- Mashhad (north-east Iran): A mass grave in which approximately 70 people have been buried.
- Zanjan (north-west Iran): In a section of the northern cemetery. In later years, other graves were built over the mass graves and new gravestones placed above the area.
- Bandar-e Gaz (northern Iran): The area is completely forested.
- Tonekabon (northern Iran): Two mass graves have been identified. One of the sites was flattened a few years ago with bulldozers and divided and parts of it were sold off. The second site is situated beneath the Abbas Abad – Kolardasht Road, near the forest. The area has been turned into an asphalt road.
- Some’e Sara (northern Iran): a butchery of Kasma.
- Kermanshah (western Iran): An area approximately 1,000 square meters. Other people have been buried in other graves above the site of the mass grave and in later years new gravestones have been placed above the ground. A section of the mass grave was poured over with asphalt and turned into a road.
- Dezful (south-west Iran): The site of the mass grave was turned into an IRGC centre called the Sacred Defence Centre.
Our investigation into the location of other mass graves related to the 1988 massacre continues.
In December 2016, other reports and video evidence surfaced of a mass grave discovered by sewage workers who were drilling in an area of Tabriz in Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province.
On the same day, Tabriz governor Rahim Shohrati-Far told the state-run ISNA news agency: “As part of the effort to develop the sewage system in Tabriz, colleagues in the Water & Sewage Company were drilling in Pasdaran Street, off Enqelab Avenue when they came across what seemed to be human bones and they quickly informed the police”.
Shohrati-Far initially claimed that the corpses were related to a historic era, adding that the authorities would investigate the matter.
The following day, however, the Director General of the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization of East Azerbaijan, Morteza Abdar-Bakhshayesh, rejected the claim that the human remains were related to an ancient era.
Abdar-Bakhshayesh told ISNA on 11 December 2016: “The discovery of this mass grave has nothing to do with Cultural Heritage”.
“When the Water & Sewage Company was drilling in this area, this grave was discovered at a depth of two metres. After that, the operation was halted so that experts from various departments could investigate it. Archaeological experts after arriving at the scene reported that the historical area of the graves is unconnected with the cultural heritage”.
Need for international action
The perpetrators of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran still enjoying impunity for their role in carrying out this atrocity.
Renowned human rights barrister, Geoffrey Robertson QC, has described the 1988 massacre as “one of the biggest human carnages since World War II.”
It is the darkest irony of this very dark episode, that the Iranian regime has been most successful at keeping the 1988 killings a secret from the international community and even from many Iranians. There is very little public awareness of the 1988 executions.
Not only has there been no prosecution of the criminals who orchestrated and carried out that summer’s gruesome murders, but until 2017 the regime had managed to deny they even occurred.
In light of the new evidence and information surfaced since 2016 when the Call-for-Justice movement emerged, and the admissions made by the clerical regime’s officials defending the massacre, the time has come for the international community to break its 30-year silence and end three decades of impunity for the clerical regime leaders in Iran.
It is time for the United Nations to launch an independent investigation into one of the most hideous crimes against humanity after the Second World War.
The time has come for referring the dossier of human rights violations in Iran, particularly the executions of the 1980s and the 1988 massacre, to the UN Security Council.