Ahmad Montazeri was brought up on charges of revealing state secrets and spreading propaganda against the regime after he released a recording of his father speaking out against the mass executions of political prisoners in the summer of 1988. The executions mainly targeted the dissident group known as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. The still-banned organization estimates that 30,000 people were put to death in little more than two months.
The Montazeri recording, made in the immediate aftermath of the executions, referred to the incident as the “greatest crime of the Islamic Republic” and declared that the other people featured in the recording would be condemned by history because of it. These other regime figures included Mostafa Pourmohammadi, who currently serves as justice minister in the administration of President Hassan Rouhani. After the release of the recording, Pourmohammadi acknowledged his participation in the massacre and declared that he was proud to have carried out “God’s commandment” of death for the members and supporters of the PMOI (MEK).
In an interview, Ahmad pointed out that the contents of the recording had already been made publicly known through his father’s memoirs and thus could not have constituted state secrets. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to 21 years in prison and was stripped of his status as an Islamic cleric. Ahmad believes that the judge in his case was prevented from acting independently, and that the verdict had been determined ahead of time by the political establishment. This casts doubt upon the prospects of success for his appeal, which he has 20 days to file.
Any clemency he might have hoped to earn through that appeal has probably already been offered, albeit informally and without legal basis. The court declared that although the legal sentence was 21 years, Ahmad would only have to serve six of those years. The defendant told IranWire that he believed this to be a ploy to try to convince him that he owed the regime a debt of gratitude.
According to the World Tribune, two specific justifications were given for the partial appeal: Ahmad’s lack of criminal record and the alleged fact that his brother was killed in a bombing by the PMOI (MEK) in 1981. With this statement, the regime appears to have attempted to reframe the discussion of Ahmad Montazeri’s case, to portray the leading Iranian resistance organization as criminals and not as victims of the massacre about which Hossein Ali Montazeri had spoken out.
But to accomplish this end, the regime will have to reframe the discussion about more than just the Montazeri case. The release of the recording brought unprecedented publicity to the massacre, which had been a severe taboo in Iranian political discussions since immediately after the victims were buried in secret mass graves. Now there is a concerted effort underway to launch inquiries into the massacre and to uncover the locations of those graves. And this effort has met with renewed efforts by the regime to crack down on sources of public exposure like the Montazeri recording.
One example of this is the case against Mansoureh Behkish, who was recently the subject of an Amnesty International call to action. The human rights organization pointed out that she had lost a sister, four brothers, and a brother-in-law during the 1988 massacre. Now she is facing national security charges over her membership in Mothers and Families of Khavaran, a group that holds commemorative gatherings for the victims of the massacre and other incidents of violent repression, as well as providing support for the families of victims.
If convicted of collusion against national security and spreading propaganda against the regime, Behkish will likely be called upon to also serve out a suspended sentence that she was given in 2011 as a result of her activities with Mothers and Families of Khavaran and also Mothers of Laleh Park, which focuses upon victims of repression following the Green Movement uprising of 2009.
By many accounts, Tehran has been paranoid about another such uprising ever since the Green Movement was suppressed. The growing domestic and international awareness of the 1988 massacre is certainly a potential motivator for such instability. But the regime’s attempts to repress dialogue regarding the massacre are only a portion of the larger crackdown that has been ongoing in recent months and years.
Activists, journalists, and even fellow regime officials face reprisals for voicing dissent, as evidenced by media reports on the attempted arrest of Iranian Member of Parliament Mahmoud Sadeghi. On Sunday, the MP temporarily escaped arrest with the help of neighbors and activists, after judiciary chief Sadeqh Larijani issued an order for his arrest.
The order reportedly came in response to Sadeghi publicly raising questions about Larijani’s financial dealings, involving the apparent deposit of millions of dollars’ worth of government funds into a number of private accounts. The attempted arrest seems to justify Ahmad Montazeri’s claims about the criminal justice system being used as a political cudgel, as well as illustrating the overall intolerance of dissent, even in response to actual crimes.