The summer of 1988 was witness to the mass execution of more than 30,000 political prisoners in Iranian prisons. The vast majority were supporters of the MEK but there were also other victims such as supporters of leftist groups.
Thirty years later, families of the victims still look for ways of bringing perpetrators to international courts, for what was considered as “crime against humanity” by Amnesty International.
At that time, seizing the opportunity to rid Iran of thousands of political prisoners, virtually all MEK members and many in jail since 1981, the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against MEK and uttered the following words: “It is decreed that all prisoners in Iran who remain faithful in their support for the Monafeqin (a derogatory term used by the mullahs to refer to MEK members) are engaged in a war against God and are condemned to death. “
Committees of Death were created. They consisted of a religious judge, an intelligence officer and a prosecutor and simply asked the prisoners if they remained faithful to their support for the MEK. A former employee of Evin prison, Kamal Afkhami Ardekani presented to the United Nations as a witness, said: “They lined up the prisoners in a room of 14 meters by five in the office building and asked them a single question, “What is your political affiliation? Those who answered the MEK were hanged on cranes parked in the parking lot at the back of the building. “
In March 1989, the French newspaper Le Monde reported: “Imam Khomeini summoned the Revolutionary Prosecutor, Hojjatol-Islam Khoeiniha, to inform him that henceforth all MEK members, whether in prison or elsewhere, will have to be killed. Because of their war against God. Executions were preceded by arbitrary trials. The trial was to pressure the prisoners in different ways to repent, to change their habits and to confess. The execution of young MEK members is reported, including those who had been imprisoned eight years earlier when they were between the ages of 12 and 14 for participating in public demonstrations. “
In a letter to his son Ahmad, Khomeini said, “Annihilate the enemies of Islam immediately.” According to Ardekani’s testimony, “The process continued over and over, without interruption.” In two weeks, more than 8,000 political prisoners, nearly all MEK members, were executed, and secretly buried in collective graves across Iran.
According to Amnesty International, “The execution orders came from the highest peaks of the Iranian State and were supposed to face a perceived danger from the armed opposition groups, especially the MEK and the Fedayan-e-Khalq organization. Amnesty International believes that these executions constitute a crime against humanity. “
As one of the few political prisoners who survived the 1988 massacre specifies: “The international community to this day still sits alongside instigators of this massacre, who hold key positions in the Tehran government. It’s a shame. “
In fact, former Minister of Justice of the actual Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Mostafa Pour-mohammadi, is a former member of the death committees of 1988. As a representative of the Ministry of Intelligence, he was a member of the tripartite committees who supervised and executed tens of thousands of political prisoners in the summer of 1988. Ebrahim Raissi, currently head of the judiciary, was also closely involved in the 1988 massacre. The committees were supposed to find out who was an MEK member and who was not.
Human Rights Watch, citing Ayatollah Montazeri’s memoirs, writes: “Ayatollah Montazeri introduced Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi as the representative of the Ministry of Information to interrogate prisoners in Evin prison and considers him to be one of the central figures of the mass executions of prisoners that took place in Tehran. He recounts a meeting with Pour-Mohammadi and the other two members of the Evin Prison Committee. The report goes on to say: “Ayatollah Montazeri, quoting official executions, places the number of prisoners executed between 2,800 and 3,800, but admits that his recollections are not precise. Montazeri writes: “According to the persons charged to execute the orders of [Ayatollah Khomeini], about two thousand eight hundred or three thousand eight hundred – I do not remember exactly – men and women were executed.”
“The MEK is not people, it is a sort of thinking,” wrote Montazeri. “You cannot kill a thinking, on the contrary you would contribute to its spread.”
Those words cost Montazeri his seat as heir apparent to Khomeiny. But what he suggested, has proven true. Far from being annihilated, the MEK has continued to represent the mullahs’ regime most important internal concern.
On Monday, July 16, a meeting that was held in Albania in the MEK newly built headquarters discussed ways and means to bring to justice those directly in charge of the massacre.
Renowned Spanish jurist Juan Garcés, the man who nearly brought to Justice in Spain, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, told the conference:
“In the case of the 1988 massacre against MEK, this is a crime against humanity. Not only the criminal code of Iran had been violated, but also the known international norms were trampled during and before this crime.”
“We need to know the facts, those responsible, the rights trampled, and which court is qualified to tend to this case. You have the right to the truth. You have the right to reparations and the right to justice,” Mr. Garcés continued.
Tahar Boumedra, former Chief of UNAMI Human Rights Office and Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq, told the conference:
“Within the framework of an association of international lawyers founded in London, Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI), we’re gathering evidence of the possible prosecutors of the political prisoners and the perpetrators.”
“We have applied the criteria of fact-finding criteria of UN missions. We have only put down evidence that is beyond doubt evident. We ended up by identifying 70 suspect perpetrators who are beyond any doubt involved in this massacre. The documents are available. We made it available to the UN and the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the diplomatic community,” he added.
“We have identified these perpetrators. Mrs. Rajavi just point to on the type of crime committed. International lawyers, such as Geoffrey Robertson, have qualified the 1988 massacre not only as a crime against humanity but also possibly a genocide,” Mr. Tahar Boumedra continued.
“Among other evidence we gathered, published in a separate document by the JVMI, is the location of the mass graves. These locations are very well identified. Anyone who challenges these documents, we invite them to go to the locations and verify for themselves,” the former UN chief human rights officer in Iraq added.
A number of MEK members also testified in the event.
Kobra Jokar, MEK member, said:
“I was in the regime’s prisons for six years. The Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) arrested me while I was pregnant. I was taken to Evin Prison and the torture chambers. I was transferred to Ward 209. In the cell, I saw four torturers torture my husband in front of me. They also tortured me in front of him, because we had relations with the MEK” said Ms. Kobra Jokar.
“A few days later, they executed him with 75 others, presumably MEK members. “The regime had executed 50 pregnant women, including Masumeh, the sister of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi. All accused of adhering to the MEK. They took me to a hospital and quickly brought me back to prison even though I was very ill,” she added.
“The torturers even interrogated the children to get information on the MEK. They had strapped a small child to a chair in a dark room and tortured her so she would reveal the names of her mother’s friends, MEK supporters” she said.
“I managed to escape prison in 1987. One year later, all of those women who shared the cell with me were executed in the 1988 massacre, on charges of adherence to the MEK,” Ms. Jokar added.
As MEK was the prime target of the massacre, very few inmates of the time survived the massacre. One was in the prison hospital when the inmates were taken to the death commission for interrogation, and only returned after the wave of hanging of MEK members to find that the prison was quasi emptied during the few weeks he spent in hospital.
MEK members were massacred in prisons in virtually all provinces of Iran. The capital Tehran’s prisons were emptied first of MEK, then came the turn of other cities. Death commissions similar to that in Tehran were formed in governorates across the countries, with the same mission as to identify prisoners who still claimed adherence to MEK.
The executed were buried in mass graves. Apart a renowned mass grave in Tehran, the Khavaran, in tens of cities across Iran other burial points with no markings exist. Population of those cities normally know about such burial points, but no official record on them nor on the identity of those buried in them from the MEK is available. The least enquiry into the subject is persecuted in Iran. The few journalists who had the courage to ask about the affair were severely punished, and normally spent a good amount of time in prison.