For decades, the theocratic regime in Iran has applied a sphere of fear and suffocation to quell any kind of dissent. Since 1979, when Ruhollah Khomeini seized power and replaced the monarchic dictatorship with a religious one, he and his successors committed crimes to silence people’s socioeconomic grievances, let alone cries for civil and political freedoms.
The Massacre of Political Prisoners in 1988 and Perpetrators’ Impunity
According to the leading opposition organization Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI), the mullahs have detained at least 500,000 political activists in the past 40 years, mostly affiliated with the MEK. During the same period, the regime executed more than 120,000, including the mass killing of 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988.
For more than three decades, authorities in Iran either denied or defended the massacre of political prisoners, mainly MEK members and supporters, under Khomeini’s fatwa. In a couple of months, “Death Commissions”—formed by Khomeini led opponents to the gallows and fire lines and buried them in unmarked mass graves across the country.
The victims’ families narrate harrowing stories about how the executioners congratulated their loved one’s death. Several parents reportedly lost their lives due to the heart attack, and many more have carried psychological consequences for years.
Authorities only delivered a bag of the executed persons’ belongings and left their families’ questions over the whereabouts of their loved ones unanswered so far. The regime also banned the relatives from holding any commemorating ceremony or mourning.
Not only did they have been enjoying impunity inside Iran, but the international community has also done nothing to hold them to account, encouraging them to detain and hang more political activists inside the country and target dissidents abroad.
The result of that impunity has elevated the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre to key positions in the past 34 years including critical judicial and administrative positions. For instance, Hossein-Ali Nayerri, Morteza Eshraghi, Ebrahim Raisi, and Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi were members of the “Death Commission” in Tehran.
Khomeini and his successor Ali Khamenei awarded all these criminals political and financial bounties. In August 2021, the regime’s Supreme Leader selected Raisi as the regime’s eighth president. The selection of Raisi, known as the “butcher of Tehran”, was the regime’s response to people’s uprisings.
Recently, Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, the regime’s general prosecutor in the 1980s, tried to downplay the crimes against humanity committed in 1988.
“The families of those executed [in the 1988 massacre] could have complained, but they did not do so!” Mousavi said. At the time, the Swedish authorities sentenced one of the massacre’s perpetrators, Hamid Noury, to a life sentence.
In an interview with the Aparat Internet TV in July 2017, former Minister of Intelligence & Security Ali Fallahian exposed that then-general prosecutor Mr. Mousavi Tabrizi said, “There is no need for a trial at all; it makes no sense that we try them.”
Responding to Mousavi’s claim, political prisoner Maryam Akbari Monfared wrote an open letter exposing the former official’s bravado. “The answer to my complaint against the perpetrators of the 1988 executions was threats, banishment, and imprisonment,” Mrs. Akbari wrote.
Notably, authorities detained and sentenced Mrs. Akbari to 15 years in jail in December 2009 following her justice-seeking efforts about the fate and graves of her sister and brother executed in the 1988 massacre.
She served her imprisonment without a day of furlough. Recently, authorities exiled her to a prison in Semnan, banned her from visiting her minor daughter, and even beat her when she sounded her protest against such inhumane practices.
However, Mrs. Akbari is not the only prisoner who has unfairly been behind bars due to being a relative of MEK executed members. The judiciary has sentenced hundreds of people to be imprisoned due to their sympathy or being relatives of MEK members, including 34 prisoners with long-term imprisonments.
“Regardless of whether someone is armed or not, they are among [MEK members],” Fallahian justified the execution of political prisoners in 1988. “If a person buys bread for them, provides them with other things, or loves his/her relative affiliated with the MEK.”
Political Prisoners Herald Freedom, Justice, and Better Future
Indeed, the mullahs’ regime ruling Iran committed horrendous torture, executions, and imprisonment sentences under bogus allegations to remove dissent. However, its atrocities inversely responded, pushing it into an awkward corner and deadly isolation.
Today, the Iranian people praise political prisoners and express their defiance of the religious dictatorship. Despite all oppressive measures, anti-regime protests and activities continue across the country. The MEK has received an unprecedented social welcome, leading to the expansion of its domestic network known as “Resistance Units.”
Even though the mullahs harshly try to break the spirit of the steadfast prisoners, the continuation of the Iranian people’s struggle for a free and democratic country is symbolized by political prisoners’ resistance and Resistance Units’ anti-regime activities.
At the same time, Iranian people in their protests continuously publicize their support for these brave women and men. “Free political prisoners,” chant retirees, teachers, workers, drivers, and people from all walks of life in their socioeconomic rallies.