A new group has arisen, called Justice for Victims of 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI), who seek to bring attention to the victims and survivors of this massacre, and to bring justice to those who participated in the killings. The victims were hurriedly buried in unmarked mass graves, and many of those who served on the “Death Commissions” sentencing thousands of people to mass executions, still hold high positions of the current Iranian regime.
Political prisoners affiliated to the main opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI or MEK) were targeted by Khomeini’s decree, which reads: “As the treacherous Monafeqin [PMOI] do not believe in Islam and what they say is out of deception and hypocrisy, and as their leaders have confessed that they have become renegades, and as they are waging war on God, and…. It is decreed that those who are in prison throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin [PMOI] are waging war on God and are condemned to execution.”
So ruthless was the decree that the Chief Justice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, sought clarification. Khomeini’s response was more ruthless still. “(I)f the person at any stage or at any time maintains his [or her] support for the Monafeqin [PMOI], the sentence is execution. Annihilate the enemies of Islam immediately. As regards the cases, use whichever criterion that speeds up the implementation of the verdict.”
The “Death Commissions” consisted of a three member panel — a religious judge, prosecutor, and Ministry of Intelligence — who had the responsibility “to implement his order of executing all political prisoners remaining loyal to their belief and political affiliation.”
The “hearings” were simple. The prisoners were called in one by one and asked if they still supported the PMOI. If their answer was yes, they would be executed. If the prisoners avoided expressing support for the PMOI, they had to pass other tests, like agreeing to make a ‘confession’ on television against the PMOI, or asked to cooperate with the regime against other prisoners who remained loyal to the PMOI. If they refused, it could automatically lead to an execution sentence.
Hanif Jazayeri at the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), who works tirelessly to bring attention to the uprising against the regime, provided testimony from Mostafa Naderi, a former political prisoner and survivor of the 1988 massacre.
Authorities arrested Naderi in 1981 for supporting the MEK by handing out their publications. He says that officials interrogated and tortured him for eight days, “including beating, lashing with cables, hanging from the ceiling and other forms of torture.” Naderi was held at Gohardasht and Evin prisons, in solitary confinement, for five years, which is where he was when the massacre began.
According to Naderi, “The regime started to separate the prisoners based on their sentences and political belief two years before the start of the massacre. Prior to the start of the massacre they were repeatedly saying that ‘we will solve the problem of political prisoners and will not allow any of you to get out of the prison alive.’
“And in 1988, the regime took the opportunity to start the massacre. I heard the news of executions while in solitary confinement, through communicating in Morse code with my adjoining cell. Personally I witnessed that none of the 250 prisoners in the top section of Ward 3 of Evin Prison survived. From about 200 prisoners in Evin Ward 3’s lower section, all but two were executed.
“At the time I was in solitary confinement, they used to take the prisoners to the so-called court and then bring them back to the solitary cells. There were about 500 to 600 solitary cells and all of them were filled with prisoners. They took them away and executed them, and their personal belongings were placed in a bag in front of their cells. They took me away for interrogations a couple of time. But I was never taken to their so-called court.”
Suffering from kidney failure as a result of his torture, Naderi remained unconscious at the prison hospital, and thus escaped the Death Commissions.
When they were clearing out the wards, they apparently did not have enough time to check the list of names. They took the prisoners away ward by ward. Naderi says, “As I heard later, it was in the court that they asked the prisoner’s name because the trials were not based on the sentences or the crimes or anything else.”
He continues, “Finally, when we returned to the ward, I just realized that they had executed all the prisoners and as far as I know and the statistics that I collected from other prisoners and their wards, there were about 12,000 prisoners in Evin Prison of which only 250 survived the massacre.”
Hossein-Ali Montazeri was Khomeini’s designated successor, until he rebelled against the executions. He sent numerous letters to the Supreme Leader to express his opposition to the massacre. His acts of conscience led to his life-long house arrest. He died in 2009.
However, in August 2016, an audio tape of Montazeri during a meeting with regime officials was released. On the audio tape, Montazeri is heard telling the members of the Death Commission, Hossein-Ali Nayyeri, the regime’s sharia judge, Morteza Eshraqi, the regime’s prosecutor, Ebrahim Raeesi, deputy prosecutor, and Mostafa Pourmohammadi, representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), “The greatest crime committed during the reign of the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed by you. Your (names) will in the future be etched in the annals of history as criminals.”
The audiotape makes it clear that officials on the Death Commission continue to hold high positions in the current Iranian regime. For example:
– Mostafa Pourmohammadi was until recently the Minister of Justice in Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet
– Hossein-Ali Nayyeri is the current head of the Supreme Disciplinary Court for Judges and deputy head of the national Supreme Court
– Ebrahim Raeesi until several months ago was the clerical regime’s prosecutor. Recently he was appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as the head of the Astan Qods-e Razavi foundation, which is one of the most important political and economic powerhouses in the clerical regime. It appropriates public funds in order to financially support some of the regime’s aggressive behavior, including the war in Syria
Montazeri can also be heard saying, “The Mujahedin-e Khalq are not simply individuals. They represent an ideology and a school of thought. They represent a line of logic. One must respond to the wrong logic by presenting the right logic. One cannot resolve this through killing; killing will only propagate and spread it.”
Until the summer of 2016 the massacre was a taboo subject, but now Iranian society has changed, as the Iranian people continue to stage protests against the oppressive regime. In fact, on August 2nd, 2017, Amnesty International published a report that pointed to a campaign by Iran’s younger generation to seek an inquiry into the mass killings of political prisoners in 1988.
The report said, “Human rights defenders targeted for seeking truth and justice include younger human rights defenders born after the 1979 Revolution who have taken to social media and other platforms to discuss the past atrocities, and attended memorial gatherings held at Khavaran.” It adds that there has been “a chain of unprecedented reactions from high-level officials, leading them to admit for the first time that the mass killings of 1988 were planned at the highest levels of government.”
Challenging a Revolutionary Guard, a student from Tabriz University challenged accused, “Your theory and your discussions defend the horrific, inhumane, illegal and irreligious massacres of 1988. … We will neither forgive, nor forget your betrayals and crimes. Our people will avenge the pain and grief of the mothers [of the martyrs] of our nation.”
Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have asked UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to support an internal investigation into the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran.
The regime had stopped destroying the mass graves in 2017, due to fear of uprisings from the families. Now it appears that the regime has decided finish the job.
In July 2018, family members of victims found people destroying the graves, when they went to visit the mass grave in Padadshahr District last July.