Audio transcript of Iran officials’ remarks about 1988 massacre

Partial Translation of the remarks by Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri in a meeting with the members of the “death commission” in Tehran regarding the massacre of political prisoners in Iran

August 15, 1988


The following is an excerpted translation of the remarks by the Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, at the time the heir apparent to Khomeini, in a meeting with the members of the “death commission,” Hossein-Ali Nayyeri, then a sharia judge, Morteza Eshraqi, then prosecutor general, Ebrahim Raeesi, then deputy prosecutor general, and Mostafa Pourmohammadi, then a representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).

The four were among the most senior officials entrusted with the task of implementing a fatwa (religious decree) by Khomeini to the massacre of thousands of political prisoners beginning in July 1988. The victims were already serving prisoners as none had been sentenced to death.

These officials currently hold different positions within the ruling regime. Mostafa Pourmohammadi is the justice minister in Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet and Hossein-Ali Nayyeri is the current head of the Supreme Disciplinary Court for Judges. Ebrahim Raeesi was the clerical regime’s prosecutor general until several months ago and has recently been appointed by supreme leader Ali Khamenei as the head of the Astan Qods-e Razavi foundation, which is a multi-billion dollar religious, political and economic conglomerate and 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 policies, including funds spent for the war in Syria.

Montazeri’s son, Ahmad, had uploaded the audio recording of that meeting on his late father’s website on August 9, 2016, stating, “In that ‘the people have a right to know,’ the following documents on the executions of 1988 have been released.” Shortly thereafter, however, the Ministry of Intelligence ordered him to remove the audio file. “At 2:44 p.m. today, August 10, 2016, I was contacted by the Qom Office of [the Ministry of] Intelligence, which delivered a message on behalf of the Ministry of Intelligence [and Security], to the effect that it is the opinion of that Ministry that the audio recording be removed from the site and contacts of Ayatollah Montazeri,” Ahmad Montazeri wrote.

Ayatollah Montazeri also wrote two letters to Khomeini, protesting these executions, which resulted in his dismissal as Khomeini’s designated successor and his house arrest for 20 years. Montazeri died in December 2009 at the age of 87.

The massacre of 1988 remains to be one of the darkest stains on the recent history of mankind, as one of the least exposed and discussed.


If it were anyone but you, I would not get involved, but I know you and you know that neither my auntie’s son, nor my uncle’s son is among the Monafeqin (Mojahedin) prisoners, nor are any of my relatives, nor have I had any friends among them….

I am a straight-talking person. I don’t hold back what is in my heart. In contrast to some gentlemen who do what is politically expedient.

In my opinion, the greatest crime committed under the Islamic Republic, from the beginning of the Revolution until now, is this crime committed by you …. members of the judicial system. According to what I have been told, the manner in which you have been introduced, for example they said, Mr. Nayyeri, Mr. Eshraqi, these are reputable, religious people.

In my opinion, the greatest crime committed during 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. Let me be frank, perhaps your simplicity has been taken advantage of. And regrettably, it is our misfortune that our judicial system, at its top, is in the hands of someone who personally objects to such things, but then in the Friday Prayer, he starts with these slogans. And then when he wants to ask the Imam (Khomeini), instead of going to the Imam and telling him that (executions) on such a vast scale harm our interests, he asks whether we should execute them in the provinces or the cities. This is his question from the Imam.

It is our misfortune, that at the top of our judicial system, we have such an individual, quite frankly, and this has become a reality. Do you hear me?

Mr. Pourmohamadi, it is true, is now a responsible official in intelligence. But before he is an intelligence official, he is a mullah. His mullah side overshadows his intelligence side. In my opinion, this (the mass executions) is something that intelligence was after, and had invested in, and Ahmad Agha, Mr. Khomieini’s son, has been saying for three or four years, “The Mojahedin, even the ones who read their newspaper, to the ones who read their magazine, to the ones who read their statements – all of them must be executed.” …

So, now, without their having carried out any new activities (the prisoners), we go and execute them. This means that all of us screwed up, our entire judicial system is wrong. Isn’t that what it means? We are among ourselves here. I mean, we want to take stock…

This one guy, his brother was in prison. Eventually when, you know, he got caught up in this, they said his sister was also suspect. So they went and brought the sister. They executed the guy. The sister – it was only two days since they had brought her – when they told her (of the brother’s death), she said, I liked these people. They said the sister was 15 or 16 years old. They said, now that her brother has been executed, and after what she said, execute her too, and they did…

In Isfahan, a pregnant woman was among them [those massacred]. In Isfahan they executed a pregnant woman…. [In clerical jurisprudence] one must not execute a woman even if she is a mohareb (enemy of God). I reminded [Khomeini] of this, but he said they must be executed.

In the month of Moharram, at least in the month of Moharram, the month of God and the Prophet, it shouldn’t be like this. At least feel some shame before Imam Hussein. Cutting off all meetings and suddenly engaging in such butchery, dragging them out and Bang! Bang!!! Does this happen anywhere in the world? …

Beware of 50 years from now, when people will pass judgment on the leader (Khomeini) and will say he was a bloodthirsty, brutal and murderous leader…. I do not want history to remember him like that…

This sort of mass executions without trials, particularly as it relates to prisoners and captives – they are your captives after all – definitely over time will favor them and the world will condemn us and they will be even more encouraged in their armed resistance. Killing is the wrong way to resist against a thought, an idea… They have one thought, one idea. Responding to a process, a logic, even a faulty logic, with killing will solve nothing. It will make it worse…

We will not be in power forever. In the future, history will judge us…

This situation with Mr. Mousavi Ardebili, whom I know to be more liberal than others; he said in the Friday Prayer that all of them must be executed… And then people chant during the Friday prayers that the Monafeqin (Mujahedin) prisoners must be executed… And when he wants to ask the Imam, instead of telling him that [executions] on such vast scale do not serve our interests and would be damaging, he asks whether we should execute them in the provinces or in the cities!!

Executing them without (their having committed) any new activities brings into question all prior judges and judgements. How do you justify executing someone who was sentenced to something less than execution? Now we have cut off all meetings and telephone calls. But tomorrow what answer can we give to their families? …

Ultimately, 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.

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