For the first time in the past three decades, the Iranian regime’s judicial official Hossein-Ali Nayeri spoke about the mass killing of thousands of political prisoners in the summer of 1988. In an interview with the Islamic Revolution Documents Center on July 9, he inadvertently unveiled some details about the heinous crime against humanity.
Acting on the regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa, he presided over the Death Commission in Tehran, which also comprised current president Ebrahim Raisi, ex-Interior and Justice Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, and then-Tehran prosecutor Morteza Eshraghi.
Survivors, cemetery staff, and prisoners’ families have stated that the regime executed at least 30,000 political prisoners, mostly affiliated with the opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), during the three-month period in which the killings took place. Authorities sentenced detainees in kangaroo trials based on Khomeini’s fatwa, which ordered the elimination of “the enemies of Islam as soon as possible” and anyone who remained steadfast in their allegiance to the MEK.
Regarding the regime’s vulnerability versus the opposition’s activities in the 1980s, Nayeri said, “That era was very critical; the county was in turmoil. Had it not been for [Khomeini’s] decisiveness, we may not enjoy such security today. The state might not have remained in power.”
Nayeri, the current chief of the court for the clergy, admitted to systematic mass executions at the time. “What should we do in such critical circumstances? There should be a decisive ruling. Someone controls the court and supervises the issues; he should manage these circumstances. It is impossible to manage the country with ‘bless you!’” he said.
During his speech, he desperately tried to justify the crime against humanity, stating, “The [1988 Massacre victims] made chaos in prisons again. They kept their organization in prisons.” Afterward, the Death Commission chief pointed to the primary victim of the extrajudicial executions, the affiliates of the MEK
He added, “They had created a new organization inside the prison. They received information from the outside and controlled the prison… They continued their activities and did not want only to pass their imprisonment. They wanted to continue their hostility with the state. They said, ‘We cause economic damage to the system by cutting phone cables, breaking lamps, etc.,’ …of course, these attempts would not overthrow the state,” confirming that the mass executions were not in response to the activities of the imprisoned MEK affiliates inside prisons.
Nayeri also admitted to detaining innocent teenagers on bogus allegations, asking, “What should we have done with a 16-17-year-old child who distributed a few [MEK magazines] and had no record of armed action?” Shedding crocodile tears for the executed juveniles, he said, “We were looking for an excuse to free them!”
The Mullahs Defend the 1988 Massacre
After more than three decades, Death Commission members, like Pour-Mohammadi and Raisi, take pride in their role in extrajudicial executions. In an interview with the Mosallas [Triangle] magazine on July 25, 2019, Pour-Mohammadi, the representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) in Death Commission in 1988, defended the massacre.
Pour-Mohammadi accused those advocating truth and accountability of “terrorism” and “collusion” with Iran’s enemies and warned they would face prosecution.
“Those killed were criminals and terrorists who had ‘temporarily’ qualified for commutation of their death sentences but had to be fought with after they started colluding with the MEK secretly from inside prison to support and join its armed incursion,” he claimed.
Amnesty International condemned Pour-Mohammadi’s remarks at the time, stating, “Pour-Mohammadi compared, without any logic, the mass extrajudicial executions of 1988 to deaths occurring on the battlefield and asked mockingly, ‘Are we really expected to talk about legal debates and civil and humanitarian protections when we are in the middle of a war?’”
Prior to Pour-Mohammadi, then-judiciary chief and current president Ebrahim Raisi had threatened victims’ families and justice-seekers with the prosecution. According to Amnesty International, “Raisi put survivors, family members of those executed, and human rights defenders at increased risk of harassment and persecution simply for seeking truth and justice.”
The Mullahs’ Confusion over the 1988 Massacre
These days, and in tandem with the trial of one of the crime’s perpetrators Hamid Noury in Sweden, the Iranian regime has been stuck in an impasse. The mullahs have tried to conceal the crime from international scrutiny on the one hand, while defending their atrocities against the MEK inside the country on the other.
In his remarks during the trial, Noury utterly denied the mass executions, resorting to the MOIS misinformation campaign and describing eyewitnesses’ testimonies as “fantasy.” “…should I say MEK—instead of ‘hypocrites,’ the Islamic Republic would detain, prosecute, jail, and even impose more severe punishment against me!” Noury said at the same time.
Remarkably, Noury had closed ties with Nayeri. Responding to the Swedish Attorney Kenneth Lewis’s question about his relationship with Nayeri, Noury said, “When I worked in Evin Prison, Nayeri was the Revolutionary Court Judge… I was welcoming him in my Iftar ceremonies for around 15 years… I’m an expert in constructing projects… I was working for Haji Nasserian, aka Mohammad Moghisei, the head of Tehran Revolutionary Court Branch-28… I was working for Haji [Nayeri] for six months until I was arrested; this is one of the disadvantages I faced during this detention.”
Despite Noury’s denials and circumventions, he frankly admitted to his relationship with the Death Commission Chief and tried to downplay the regime’s crime against humanity. The Swedish court is to declare its ruling for Noury’s trial on July 14.
In a nutshell, remarks by Nayeri, Pour-Mohammadi, Raisi, and Noury all indicate that the regime continues to consider the PMOI/MEK as an existential threat. They implicitly underline that the PMOI/MEK represents the Iranian people’s struggle to overthrow the religious dictatorship, and the regime has done and will do, whatever it takes to remain in power.
Today, Nayeri has once again focused on the mass executions of PMOI/MEK affiliates in 1988 and is steadfast in defending his Death Commission’s inhuman atrocities as anti-regime protests continue to intensify, while many youths have been joining the organized resistance in growing numbers, forming “Resistance Units.”
Nayeri’s attempts to defend the regime’s actions are futile as they continue to be surrounded by domestic and international crises, which have left them hanging onto power by a thread.