Khomeini had ordered that the massacre be carried out at the earliest opportunity and wherever it was practical. In order to keep the dimensions of this crime a secret and prevent a social reaction, even the bodies of the victims were not handed over to their families and were instead buried in mass graves. Now some former officials of the regime have admitted that more than 30,000 political prisoners were executed during the massacre.
The following is the text of remarks by Azadeh Zabeti, spokesperson for ” ustice for Victims of 1988 Massacre in Iran” at the committee’s launch press conference at the United Nations in Geneva on 21 September 2016:
Text of remarks by Azadeh Zabeti –
Spokesperson committee “Justice for Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran”
UN, Geneva – 21 September 2016:
It’s my great personal pleasure to introduce to you, the formation of “Justice for Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran”. This committee is headquartered in London and will take the form of a not for profit association whose contributors work on a pro bono basis. This committee has been formed at the request of the families of the victims of the 1988 massacre, individuals whose family members have been executed by the Iranian regime, and survivors of the massacre. As spokesperson for the families, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the renowned international human rights lawyers and jurists as well as political personalities, former UN officials and former government officials who have agreed to act as advisors and consultants to the Association. Some of those individuals are present today and others such as Sir Nigel Rodley, who was of course the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, could not join us in person.
In the West, very little is known about the 1988 massacre. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, we must remember that this is a time pre-internet when very little information was leaving Iran and there were no foreign agencies with personnel on the ground. Whispers of the horrors that were taking place in Iran came from the few refugees who were able to flee. Domestically there was a media blackout and amongst the people, silence, fear and mistrust permeated every aspect of society. The Islamic Republic was at this stage 8 years old and its founder, Ayatollah Khomeini was reigning with savage and brutal force.
In July 1988, Ayatollah Khomeini handed down a fatwa ordering the massacre of political prisoners. The fatwa’s instructions were very simple. Any political prisoner who remained loyal to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran must be executed. ‘Death Commissions’ were formed in more than 70 cities and included a religious judge, prosecutor and a representative of the Intelligence Ministry. In the space of a summer, more than 30,000 political prisoners would perish. Many had already served their sentences but were nevertheless executed. These included children as young as 15 and pregnant women.
Last month, the families’ wounds were re-opened when an audio file emerged of Khomeini’s former heir, Ayatollah Montazeri, protesting to members of the Death Commission while the massacres were taking place. Excerpts from the tape I believe are available to members of the press but I draw your attention to two quotes in particular. Montazeri tells the Death Commission “I haven’t been able to sleep and every night it occupies my mind for two to three hours… what will you tell the families?” And rather hauntingly, “the biggest crime in the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed at your hands, and they’ll write your names as criminals in history”.
On behalf of the families, JVMI calls on the UN Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights to set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate this crime against humanity. The impunity enjoyed by its perpetrators must end. The families demand justice and only with justice can they seek closure.
The audio tape has shocked Iranian society and the diaspora. No longer is it possible for the regime to keep the details of the massacre a secret. The audio tape and its revelations have turned into a serious political and social crisis affecting the most senior officials of the regime, many of whom were active participants in this atrocity. For example, the current Justice Minister was a member of the infamous Death Commission.
[Khomeini had ordered that the massacre be carried out at the earliest opportunity and wherever it was practical. In order to keep the dimensions of this crime a secret and prevent a social reaction, even the bodies of the victims were not handed over to their families and were instead buried in mass graves. Now some former officials of the regime have admitted that more than 30,000 political prisoners were executed during the massacre.]
Mass Graves Across Iran
JVMI has obtained reports including from the National Council of Resistance of Iran about the whereabouts of some of the mass graves in Iran, a number of which have never been revealed before. The total number of mass graves is not known to us at this stage but we continue our investigation. What I can confirm is the existence of dozens of mass graves.
We have managed to corroborate the existence of these mass graves in at least 12 Iranian provinces including Tehran, Khuzistan, Fars, Gilan, Mazandaran, Khorrasan, Lorestan, Isfahan, Semnan, Ilam, East Azerbaijan, and West Azerbaijan. In many of these provinces, several mass graves have been identified. There are reports of mass graves in which several thousand people have been buried and others in which dozens have been buried.
The victims were transferred to unmarked mass graves mainly in the dead of night in trucks, containers or even meat transport vehicles and were dumped in pits which had been dug in advance and the pits filled with earth.
The existence and location of a number of these mass graves has previously been exposed. The details of some of the graves were secretly relayed to the families by agents wishing to clear their conscience. Others were discovered by pure chance. In some places, since the corpses were buried hastily and the depth of the pits was not very deep, heavy rainfall had washed away the soil and the bodies surfaced, revealing the location of a mass grave. For example in Menjil in northern Iran, following rainfall, a mass grave of 80 prisoners was discovered. In several places, animals had dispersed the soil and the corpses surfaced.
One of the most famous and perhaps the largest mass grave discovered to date is in southern Tehran at a place called Khavaran. In 1996 during a routine soil sampling carried out by a road construction company, a large mass grave was discovered. The grave contained the corpses of what is estimated to be thousands of political prisoners. The publication of this news led to families flocking to the site of the mass grave in Khavaran, however the regime’s security forces fired in the air, forcing the people to disperse. The following day a number of employees of the construction company were arrested and charged with publishing the news.
In several sites including in the city of Shiraz, several weeks after the bodies were buried the regime overturned the soil and later in order to destroy any trace of the bodies, it sprayed acid on the ground and covered the area with concrete.
In some instances, ordinary graves were dug over the site of the mass graves so that the area would have the appearance of an ordinary cemetery. In some locations, asphalt was put over the site of mass graves. Other sites of mass graves were later flattened and in other cases regime centers were built over the site of the mass graves and others were sold by the regime.
Following the release of Ayatollah Montazeri’s audio tape and new information supplied to us by the families of the victims, at least eight mass graves have recently been discovered. They are:
1. Mashhad (north-east Iran): A mass grave in which approximately 70 people have been buried.
2. Zanjan (north-west Iran): In a section of the northern cemetery. In later years, other graves were built over the mass graves and new gravestones placed above the area.
3. Kermanshah (western Iran): An area approximately 1,000 square meters. Other people have been buried in other graves above the site of the mass grave and in later years new gravestones have been placed above the ground. A section of the mass grave was poured over with asphalt and turned into a road.
4. Sume’e Sara (northern Iran): a butchery of Kasma.
5/6. Tonekabon (northern Iran): Two mass graves have been identified. One of the sites was flattened two years ago with bulldozers and divided and parts of it were sold off. The second site is situated beneath the Abbas Abad – Kolardasht Road, near the forest. The area has been turned into an asphalt road.
7. Dezful (south-west Iran): The site of the mass grave was turned into an IRGC center called the Sacred Defense Center.
8. Bandar-e Gaz (northern Iran): The area is completely forested.
Our investigation into the location of other mass graves and other elements of the 1988 massacre continues, including the collation of information relating to the perpetrators. There is no time limit for bringing the perpetrators to account. We hope that the work of the association will be a fitting tribute to the sacrifices of the 30,000 political prisoners who were executed in the summer of 1988 and all those Iranians who since 1980 have given their lives in pursuit of freedom, democracy, a respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.