News : Human rights

Who Were the Ayyaran in Iran?

A 2018 research by Amnesty International found that Ruhollah Khomeini Iran's regime founder had ordered the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners through a secret fatwa in 1988.

During the 1980s, the Iranian regime launched a vicious campaign of torture and executions against opposition groups, especially members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), culminating in the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners.

The regime tried to justify its crime and defame the MEK by pretending the executed were drug smugglers, which is an odd claim because there can’t have been 30,000 drug smugglers rounded up at once and international law bans the death penalty for non-violent offences.

The regime was, of course, simply trying to hide the fact that those they murdered were martyrs, who died while fighting for freedom. Despite this crackdown, people were not dissuaded from joining the MEK and the group got stronger.


In Sorkh Hesar, one of the towns that saw many public executions of the MEK, religious leader Safi Gholi Ashrafi started a group of MEK members, called Ayyaran.

However, all 80 members of Ayyaran were arrested, along with Ashrafi, and in January 1989, the regime announced that they would soon execute a “dangerous gang of drug smugglers”, with two to be hanged in public for “acting against national security”.  

The two were Ashrafi and Rouhollah Ashrafian, hanged in front of family, friends, and neighbours on the Sorkh Hesar football field, while heavily armed Revolutionary Guards, police officers, and intelligence agents watched from neighbouring rooftops to make sure that no one intervened.

Other key Ayyaran members executed by the regime include:

During the course of summer 1988, the Iranian regime executed more than 30,000 political prisoners – most of whom were supporters or members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI / MEK).

More than three decades later, the Iranian regime has still not been held accountable. Some of those involved in carrying out this terrible crime against humanity has even risen through the regime’s ranks, now occupying high-level and senior positions. The country’s justice minister Alireza Avaei and the head of the judiciary Ebrahim Raisi are two such individuals.