In 1981, at the age of 15 years old, former political prisoner Akbar Samadi was arrested by Iranian security forces for supporting the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), and sentenced to 10 years in prison. During his time in prison, he bore witness to the most brutal crime against humanity in Iran within the last four decades.
During the summer of 1988, the Iranian regime’s then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa that called for the execution of all MEK supporters ‘without mercy or hesistation’. Political prisoners across Iran were brought before ‘Death Commissions’, a group of judges ordered to carry out Khomeini’s orders, who decided their fate.
Samadi, who was imprisoned in Gohardasht Prison at the time, was taken six times to the ‘Death Corridor’, a holding area for those who would be brought before the judges who chose who would be sentenced to death.
The regime’s current president, Ebrahim Raisi was one of four members of the Tehran ‘Death Commission’, and according to Samadi, “he was both uniquely enthusiastic and uniquely mechanical in the performance of his appointed task.”
Samadi said, “It was clear from the content of Khomeini’s fatwa and from the experience of those being held in political wards at the time that the regime’s intention with the 1988 massacre was to wholly annihilate the PMOI, as well as any other serious threat to the theocratic dictatorship.”
Following the massacre, the intelligence network of the MEK has worked hard to discover and reveal not only the locations of the mass graves where the bodies of those executed were hastily buried but the true estimate for the death toll from that fateful summer in 1988, which is around 30,000 people.
Samadi was one of the prisoners who managed to escape the gallows. He states that a clerical error was what kept him from being sentenced to death, as the written judgment from his visit to Raisi’s Death Commission was misplaced so he was later taken back to his cell instead of the ‘Death Hall’.
Samadi said, “The person who would have otherwise sent me to the gallows was known to me as Hamid Abbasi, but he also goes by the name Hamid Noury. It is under that name that he is currently being tried in Sweden on charges of war crimes and mass murder, stemming from his participation in the 1988 massacre.”
In 2019, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei installed Raisi as the head of the regime’s judiciary, which gave him a prime position to oversee the regime’s brutal crackdown over a dissent that had escalated since the year before. In November 2019, the anti-government protests turned into a nationwide uprising, which led to the regime enforcing brutal repression tactics to quell the unrest. In a matter of days, around 1,500 protesters were killed by the regime’s security forces, and thousands of others were arrested and subjected to torture for months after.
Raisi’s involvement in this horrific crackdown highlighted just how ruthless he was when it came to violent actions towards Iranian citizens.
Samadi said, “I would expect nothing else of the man whom I witnessed issuing death sentences in 1988 as casually as another person might flip through the pages of a magazine. It was clear that in his view, as in the view of the supreme leader, any sign of continued support for the MEK or its democratic values was sufficient justification for execution.”
With Hamid Noury currently on trial in Sweden for his crimes against humanity, after being arrested under the principle of universal jurisdiction, Samadi hopes that this principle can be used to hold the rest of the 1988 massacre perpetrators accountable for their actions.
In recent conferences to discuss Raisi’s appalling human rights record, many legal scholars have called for the principle to be used for Raisi, with some stating that he should even be prosecuted for genocide.
Samadi said, “When I think back upon the rows and rows of empty cells that were left after Raisi’s Death Commission finished its work, I cannot help but think that no other charge could adequately describe the enormity of his crime.”