1988 Massacre of Political prisoners in Iran
A Crime Against Humanity
1.In the summer of 1988 following a decree by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s Supreme Leader at the time, thousands, with some estimate as many as 30,000 political prisoners were executed in a matter of few months, the majority in the first few weeks.
2.Khomeini’s decree in late July 1988 called for the execution of all political prisoners affiliated to the main opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI or MEK) who remained loyal to the organisation. The decree 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.”
3.Subsequently, Khomeini’s son conveyed to him three questions on behalf of the then Chief Justice:
1. Does the decree apply to those who have been in prison, who have already been tried and sentenced to death, but have not changed their stance and the verdict has not yet been carried out, or are those who have not yet been tried are also condemned to death?
2. Those Monafeqin [PMOI] prisoners who have received limited jail terms, and who have already served part of their terns, but continue to hold fast to their stance in support of the Monafeqin[PMOI], are they also condemned to death?
3. In reviewing the status of the Monafeqin [PMOI] prisoners, is it necessary to refer the cases of Monafeqin [PMOI] prisoners in counties that have an independent judicial organ to the provincial center, or can the county’s judicial authorities act autonomously?
4.In response Khomeini decreed:
In all the above cases, if the person at any stage or at any time maintains his [or her] support for the Monafeqin [Mojahedin], 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.
5.Based on Khomeini’s order, 3-member panels were formed in Tehran and other provinces to implement the order. Each panel including a religious judge, prosecutor and a representative from the Ministry of Intelligence. They were named by the prisoners and human rights organization as “Death Commissions.”
6.The procedures were very simple. They would call the prisoners one by one and ask them if they still supported the PMOI; if the answer was yes, they would be executed. Even if the prisoners avoided expressing support for the PMOI, they had to pass other tests such as agreeing to make a ‘confession’ on television against the PMOI? Then they would be asked if they would cooperate with the regime against other prisoners who remained loyal to the PMOI? A negative response in any of these cases could automatically lead to the prisoner receiving an execution sentence. Some weeks after the start of the massacre of PMOI affiliates, political prisoners affiliated with other groups who refused to cooperate with teh regime were also executed.
7.Most of the victims were political prisoners serving their sentences; many had completed their sentences but were kept in prison and there were no new charges or even allegation against them. Others, who had previously been jailed and later freed, were rearrested without charge and summarily executed over their continued support for the PMOI.
8.The corpses were not handed over to their families. Indeed, many families did not know what had happened to their loved ones. The regime feared protests when families were eventually informed about the death of their loved ones. Therefore, in order to prevent such protests, the regime laid conditions for informing families of the burial site of their loved ones. Among the conditions were that the family must not hold a ceremony or put up their loved ones photos in their home; nor must they hold any sort of public protest. In the end, however, the families were never informed of their loved ones’ place of burial. The executed prisoners were buried in various unknown mass graves. Some of the mass graves have been discovered over the years.
Montazeri’s audio tape
9.Hossein-Ali Montazeri was Khomeini’s designated successor at the time of the massacre in 1988. However, he wrote a series of letters to Khomeini opposing the executions. He told Khomeini that the PMOI was “an idea” and “a logic” which would be strengthened by these killings. “If you insist on your decree … spare the women with children.” Khomeini not only ignored his recommendations, but became extremely enraged and ousted Montazeri, who subsequently was put under house arrest until his death in 2009.
10.On 9 August 2016, twenty-eight years after the carnage, the audio recording of Montazeri’s meeting on 15 August 1988 with top officials responsible for the massacre of the political prisoners was published online by his son Ahmad Montazeri. In the audio file Montazeri could be heard addressing the “Death Commission” of Tehran consisting of four people: Mostafa Pourmohammadi, representative of the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) in the Commission; Hossein Ali Nayyeri, the sharia judge; Morteza Eshraghi, the public prosecutor; and Ebrahim Ra’isi, the deputy prosecutor, who collectively decided on the executions in the Iranian capital.
11.Montazeri said 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.” He added, “Executing these people while there have been no new activities (by the prisoners) means that … the entire judicial system has been at fault.”
12.The publication of the tape has sent shock waves throughout the Iranian society and political scene, prompting the most senior officials of the regime to take a position. Scores of the members of the Death Committees are cabinet ministers in the Rouhani government or currently hold other senior positions.