Rouhani’s Minister of Justice on 1988 massacre of political prisoners:
We are proud to have carried out God’s commandment
On August 9, 2016, an audio file surfaced of a discussion among top Iranian officials about the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran, sending shockwaves in Iran’s political landscape. In the 40-minute tape, dating to August 15, 1988, Hossein-Ali Montazeri, then Ayatollah Khomeini’s heir to the supreme leadership, criticized top judicial and intelligence officials on the mass executions that began on the basis of a fatwa decreed by Khomeini.
The publication of the conversation recording is the first time the 1988 massacre of more than 30,000 political prisoners has received nationwide attention. In subsequent weeks there have been repeated calls by the public, and even by some officials within the clerical establishment, for an explanation and apology by the perpetrators for carrying out the massacre. The demand has triggered incessant public reactions from top Iranian officials from the Supreme Leader down.
Reactions by the regime’s senior officials on the revelation of Montazeri’s audio file about the 1988 massacre
Ali Motahari, Deputy Speaker of the Iranian parliament, August 16, 2016
“…The dimensions of this story must be asked from Rayshahri, Minister of Intelligence of the time, Mr. Mousavi Ardabili (then Head of the Judiciary), Mousavi Bojnourdi, Moghtadai and Mousavi Kho’iniha.”
Khamenei acknowledges 1988 massacre
Official website of Khamenei, August 24, 2016
In a meeting with Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet on August 24, 2016, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei noted the audio recording of Mr. Montazeri’s meeting and expressed grave concern over “efforts to whitewash the Mojahedin.” According to his website “… Referring to some efforts to whitewash the [Mojahedin], who were responsible for this crime, he said: Unfortunately, some people are trying to create an atmosphere of innocence for criminals who have killed thousands of ordinary people and officials and renowned dignitaries and distort the radiant image of the late Imam (Khomeini). But these evil hands will not succeed and they will fail as they have done before.”
Rafsanjani acknowledges 1988 massacre
In a meeting of the State Expediency Council on August 27, 2016, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the council’s president and former President of the Iranian regime, expressed strong regret over the new wave of attacks directed at (the regime’s founder) Khomeini.
The Fars News Agency, affiliated to the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), quoted Rafsanjani on August 27, 2016 as saying: “The wave has embraced virtually all foreign opposition media, to the extent that the mayor of Paris recently held an exhibition which recreated the scenes of executions in those days. The extent of support for this terrorist group at this time merits being pondered.” He added, “The main objective of our international and domestic enemies is to take revenge from the unprecedented role and status of Imam (Khomeini) in contemporary history of Iran and the world.” Rafsanjani added, “We must act vigilantly and describe the Imam’s path in a way that it could not be abused by opponents.”
Ali Motahari, Deputy Speaker of the Iranian parliament, August 27, 2016
On August 27, Ali Motahari sent an open letter to Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, Hassan Rouhani’s current Justice Minister who was a member of Khomeini’s “Death Commission” in 1988, demanding an explanation into his role in the massacre.
Minister of Justice proud of 1988 massacre
Tasnim news agency, affiliated to the IRGC Quds Force, August 28, 2016:
The Iranian regime’s Justice Minister, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, who was a key official involved in the massacre and whose voice could be heard on the Montazeri tape, said: “God commanded show no mercy to the nonbelievers because they will not show mercy to you either and there should be no mercy to the [PMOI] because if they could they would spill your blood, which they did. … We are proud to have carried out God’s commandment with regard to the [Mojahedin] and to have stood with strength and fought against the enemies of God and the people.”
State-run ISNA news agency, August 28, 2016:
“30 Majlis (Parliament) Deputies have in a letter called for an investigation into the Ali Motahari’s competence as Deputy Speaker of the Majlis. Mohammad-Ali Pour-Mokhtar announced this news and told ISNA: ’30 Majlis deputies wrote a letter to the delegation that monitors Article 26 of the Majlis’s internal guidelines (The delegation which sees to the written protest from heads of the expert committees and members of the committee which formulates the internal guidelines) demanding an investigation and a vote of no confidence into Ali Motahari’s competence as Deputy Speaker of the Majlis. According to ISNA, a number of MPs today (Sunday) reacted to the letter yesterday by Ali Motahari to Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi requesting answers to questions and an explanation regarding the executions of 1988.”
Assembly of Experts expresses support for the 1988 massacre
Website of Assembly of Experts, August 28, 2016
An official position by the secretariat of the regime’s Assembly of Experts on the scandal surrounding the Montazeri tape, reads in part: “Perhaps for some it is still hard to grasp the historic and revolutionary decision of His Eminency Imam Khomeini in his decisive and uncompromising action toward the [PMOI] and the prosecution of the leaders and some members of the [PMOI] in 1988 and the deep understanding and foresightedness of that heavenly man in saving the Islamic regime which is the fruit of the struggle and efforts of the old and the young in this country. The late Imam aborted the sedition through his timely decision at that critical juncture.”
“Isn’t it the case that the heartless [PMOI], whose crimes and treachery against this land are a well-known fact, have from time to time with the various support of the Arrogance (West) and reactionary states sought to revive their evil and corrupt existence? One day in Paris and another day as the special guest of the criminal King of Saudi Arabia in performing the Hajj pilgrimage and another day by spreading false news about our regime and the leadership, they attempt to present themselves.”
“Which earnest human being and awaken conscience would not concur that the publication of the contents of a meeting after nearly three decades is taking place with evil goals? “Is it not the case that the criminal U.S. tries every once in a while and with various excuses to instigate its agents and mercenaries so that it could succeed in its false ambitions to undermine the Islamic regime, the principle of the Velayat-e Faqih (supreme religious rule) and the esteemed position of the supreme religious leader in in the minds of the believers and at the same time redeem the [PMOI] current by portraying it as victims. Yet they are blind to the fact that resuscitating a failed entity through claims such as defending human rights is a sloppy plot and one that’s doomed to fail.”
“While condemning the crimes of the evil [PMOI] grouplet in Iran and Iraq, the Assembly of Experts condemns the publication of this audio tape by the supporters of this grouplet, which only adds fuel to the fire of the enemy, and it warns the wise and aware people, in particular the dear youths of the Islamic Iran, that the [PMOI], with those crimes and its fragmented state of organization, is on the brink of complete destruction and will get nowhere through such hopeless attempts to stain the truth about His Eminence the Imam (Khomeini) and the holy regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran and they will not reduce by an iota the firm belief of you the wise and pious people in the path of the Imam and the revolution.”
Former regime official reveals new information on 1988 massacre
Dorr TV, August 26, 2016
Mehdi Khazali who worked at the presidential office under Ali Khamenei and Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, described many scenes of the 1988 massacre in Evin. He is the son of mullah Abolqasem Khazali who was the head of the regime’s Guardian Council in the 1980s. In a televised speech on Dorr TV, Mehdi Khazali said: “The largest and most populous group which opposed the state was the People’s Mojahedin Organization… It could be annihilated only by authorization from the Imam (Khomeini). In fact, they wanted to uproot this group while the Imam was still alive. They said that if anyone was released, he/she would become a renegade; then we would be entangled in a situation where we would be facing a large number of people. So, we execute these people, and these executions would terrify the families and no one would dare to become a renegade.” Khazali added, “According to an Intelligence Ministry directorate, some 20,000 people (were executed) in Tehran and provinces. This means that the 4,000 (mentioned by Mr. Montazeri) belonged to Tehran and according to someone like Mr. Maleki, nearly 33,000 people were hanged in the matter of a month or so, or 30 something days.” (Dr. Mohammad Maleki was the first chancellor of Tehran University following the 1979 revolution.)
Ahmad Khatami, Tehran Friday prayer’s leader, August 19, 2016
“…Those who had collaborated in prisons and said that we were steadfast, they too are Mohareb (at war with God) … What the late Imam did in 1988, was a religious, Quranic and revolutionary act and it was a great service to the Iranian Muslim nation. If the Imam had not done that brave act, we would have had big issues today; we wouldn’t have security. We owe our security today to the Imam’s revolutionary measure… People should not believe whatever is broadcasted from foreign satellite networks.”
Sadeq Larijani, Head of the Judiciary, August 15, 2016:
“…Western countries and their regional proxies try to support the PMOI by inviting them to Paris and holding rallies, and unfortunately some inside the country also try to somehow go along with this movement and disturb public opinion, but they must know that the Judiciary will act forcefully as always and any disturbance in public opinion on these security issues for sure will have judiciary prosecution… What has been done based on the sentences of the courts cannot be compromised and the verdict for Mohareb groups is very clear but unfortunately some go the crooked way and say strange things… “
Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, the Prosecutor General, August 17, 2016
“… We are sorry that inside the Islamic Republic of Iran we see some people in concert with the enemy and in harmony with the same tune that Israel and the U.S. and Western world and their regional elements play. Unfortunately, they are after clearing the criminal PMOI.”
Qolam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, state television (IRINN) website August 28, 2016
The state broadcaster’s website quoted Iran’s former Intelligence Minister and current spokesperson of the Judiciary Qolam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei as saying: “The [PMOI’s] bleak record will not be wiped clean with any deceptive scheme.”
IRINN added: “Ejei referred to an audio file which is intended to redeem the [PMOI] and has been published online. He said: ‘The crimes and treachery of the [PMOI] against the Iranian people is so deep-rooted and widespread that it cannot be fully comprehended when it is recounted to today’s generation’.”
The Fars News Agency, affiliated to the IRGC, August 27, 2016
Majid Ansari, Hassan Rouhani’s legal deputy and member of the State Expediency Council, told the council’s meeting on August 27, 2016: In addition to distortion of Khomeini’s image, “a complicated conspiracy is being concocted on the international level to present the terrorist [PMOI] Organization as a legitimate and civilian organization.”
Mohammad Ali Ansari, a member of Khomeini’s office, August 10, 2016
“These statements by Ayatollah Montazeri are not fair and include prejudices that insidious people around him have induced… Those who have mired the mind of Mr. Montazeri with unreal issues, caused him to defend the liberals and the Mojahedin and they have published these audio tapes… Publication of this audio tape after 28 years when the leaders of the World Arrogance (U.S.) and takfiris are engaged with the Mojahedin is tantamount to their revival and providing legitimacy for them…”
Former IRGC Minister, Tasnim news agency, affiliated to the IRGC Quds Force, August 28, 2016
Mohsen Rafiqdoost, who was the Minister of the IRGC during the Iran-Iraq war, was quoted as saying: “The Imam wrote in his will that he would go to an eternal place with a calm and certain heart because he did not resolve the problem of the [PMOI], the revolution would face problems. … The Montazeri audio file shows the hopelessness of the [PMOI].”
Ali Razini, a Judiciary official, August 16, 2016
“…Unfortunately there are lines active inside and outside the country to somehow revive the Mojahedin… Those whose verdict was Moharebeh (enmity to God), their sentences were carried out and the basis for other problems was annihilated. The security that we have now in Iran, which shines as a stable island among all insecure countries in the region, is because Imam Khomeini did not neglect on carrying out the sentence… We are thankful to the founder of the Islamic revolution who has dealt with such decisiveness and prevented the penetration of insecurity…”
Ali Khomeini, grandson of Khomeini
“…Today some have become compassionate and pose questions such as why do you confront these people, why did you confront the PMOI, why did you confront the improperly-veiled, why did you deal with the stupid. What was the regime supposed to do with these people? It had to fight, and had to fight hard. Praise be to Allah, it did happen and the country saw peace.”
Hassan Khomeini, grandson of Khomeini, August 14, 2016
“…It is questionable that those who target this point (Khomeini), in what hope and to what purpose, criteria and analysis target one of the most profound pillars of national unity? Of course I am confident that they will not benefit from it, but recounting statements that are known to be false and baseless, what benefit does it have?”
IRGC Officer Rasoul Sanaei-rad, Deputy of Political Affairs of the IRGC, August 16, 2016
“ … The simultaneity of these series of measures with the attempt of enemies of the regime to revive the Mojahedin and on top of them the Americans and the Saudis causes mobilization of the Mojahedin grouplet in the political field and preparing them for subversive acts against the Islamic Republic of Iran on the one hand and paving the ground for JCPOA-4, i.e. activation of the dossier of human rights and to impose pressure on the regime in the other fields.”
The 40 minute tape was a recording of an August 15, 1988 conversation between Hossein-Ali Montazeri, then Ayatollah Khomeini’s heir to the supreme leadership, with a number of judiciary and intelligence officials. A few weeks prior to that, Khomeini had issued a fatwa ordering the massacre of all political prisoners, particularly the activists of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK). All the prisoners had already been given prison sentences and some had even finished their terms but were not released.
The overwhelming majority of prisoners refused to repent over their activism and they were sentenced to death in kangaroo trials that lasted one to two minutes. In a matter of a few months, 30,000 political prisoners were massacred and secretly buried in mass graves. The scope of the massacre was later confirmed by defectors who had held positions that gave them access to specific information about the proceedings.
The individuals Montazeri addressed in the audio recording were members of the “Death Committee” that conducted the trials in Tehran.
In it, he harshly criticized shocking aspects of the massacre including hangings of 15 year-olds, pregnant women, and people whose sole “crime” was reading the PMOI’s newspaper. The members of the Death Committee actually took part in the meeting to seek Montazeri’s consent, and they not only acknowledged committing these crimes but explicitly defended their conduct.
Far from embracing their arguments, Montazeri explicitly stated: “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.” He also declared that the Iranian people were disgusted by the system of velayet-e-faqih, or absolute rule of clergy.
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 years. Montazeri died in December 2009 at the age of 87.
Three decades of denial
All of the regime’s key officials without any exception were implicated in this crime against humanity, the largest massacre of political prisoners after World War II. But the consensus within the regime was not limited to the massacre itself, but also included the need to keep a lid on it and to suppress any talk about it, since the regime’s officials were fully aware that any public discussion and discourse of this hideous crime would throw the whole regime into crisis.
In his recorded comments, Montazeri repeatedly asked the Death Commission, “How do you want to respond to inquiries from the families of the victims?” The implicit answer was, “with silence,” but with the revelation of the audio file, almost three decades after the crime, the conspiracy of silence failed and this issue quickly evolved into the main topic of public and political discussion in Iran.
Social-political crisis for the regime
The social impact was so pervasive in Iran that a large number of the regime’s officials were forced to take a position. Yet the issue did not subside and more than ever the issues of the 1988 massacre and the PMOI’s status as its main victims became public talk, specifically among the youth.
Just one day after the audio file was made public, the Ministry of Intelligence ordered Montazeri’s son to remove the audio file from his father’s website. He was summoned to the Special Court of Clergy and was interrogated for three hours. A further interrogation session was held on August 28. After the initial interrogation, Ahmad Montazeri said that he possessed other unexposed documents that he might be intent on revealing. He added that the documents are “not limited to a specific location and if the security officials want to search to find the documents, they should not only search throughout Iran but also throughout the world.”
What makes the issue more pressing for the regime is the fact that members of the “Death Committee” currently hold very senior positions within the ruling regime. Mostafa Pourmohammadi, then a representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) is now the justice minister in Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet. Hossein-Ali Nayyeri, then a sharia judge, is the current head of the Supreme Disciplinary Court for Judges. Ebrahim Raeesi, then deputy prosecutor general, 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.
Nearly two months after the publication of the audiotape, the political and social tumult persist in Iran and every day new details of the 1988 massacre surface, and families of the victims have begun revealing heretofore untold stories regarding the massacres and mass graves.
The massacre of 1988 remains one of the darkest stains on the recent history of mankind, but also one of the least acknowledged and discussed.