Hossein-Ali Nayyeri, the former Head of the Tehran Death Commission, has after 34 years broken his silence and defended the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran with total impunity.
Nayyeri, who is currently Head of the Supreme Disciplinary Court for Judges and a former Vice President of the Supreme Court, stated his position in an interview with the state entity Islamic Revolution Documents Center (IRDC), published on 9 July 2022.
Asked about the mass executions of 1988, Nayyeri stated: “In such critical circumstances, what were we to do? We had to hand down verdicts decisively. He who is running the court and dealing with the cases has to resolve the cases. In such circumstances, we cannot run the country by offering them hugs and kisses!”
Nayyeri went on to vilify the victims by claiming they had staged riots in prisons. He added: “The atmosphere of the prison was in their hands and therefore new conspiracies were at work.”
“If it wasn’t for Imam [Khomeini]’s decisiveness, maybe we wouldn’t have this security at all,” he said in the interview. “Maybe the situation would have been different. Perhaps the Islamic Republic would not have survived at all.”
Nayyeri’s name is first to appear in the list of ‘judges’ appointed to what is now known as the 1988 Death Commissions on the handwritten fatwa by Iran’s then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordering the 1988 massacre. At the time, he was Head of Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Courts.
Khomeini’s fatwa states in part:
“[T]hose in prisons throughout the country who remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin [PMOI] are waging war on God and are condemned to execution”.
“The task of implementing the decree in Tehran is entrusted to Hojjatol-Eslam Nayyeri, the Shari’a Judge, Mr. Eshraqi, the Tehran prosecutor, and a representative of the Intelligence Ministry”.
Reliable sources indicate that the Tehran Death Commission started its work in Tehran’s Evin Prison on 28 July 1988. The commission operated in both Evin and Gohardasht prisons. It is reported that they used helicopters to commute rapidly between Evin and Gohardasht to issue death sentences.
Iran’s current President Ebrahim Raisi, who was Tehran’s Deputy Prosecutor in 1988, sat alongside Nayyeri as the Tehran Death Commission sent thousands of prisoners to their deaths.
No members of the 1988 Death Commissions have ever been held accountable, and many, like Nayyeri, continue to hold high office in either the government, judiciary or security apparatus.
Nayyeri is a current senior member of the Judiciary, and his comments in defence of the 1988 massacre are indicative of the chronic impunity that exists in that institution.
It’s high time for the United Nations human rights mechanisms to end impunity for Hossein-Ali Nayyeri, Ebrahim Raisi and all the other senior perpetrators of the 1988 mass extra-judicial executions and enforced disappearances of some 30,000 political prisoners.
In January, hundreds of international human rights and legal experts, including the former head of the International Criminal Court and more than 100 current and former UN officials, joined Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI) in writing to the UN Human Rights Council, stating that the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran is believed to amount to “crimes against humanity” and “genocide,” and they called for the establishment of an international inquiry that would bring its perpetrators to justice.
Below is the translation of the passage from Nayyeri’s interview related to the 1988 massacre:
English translation of passage from interview of Hossein-Ali Nayyeri with Iran’s Islamic Revolution Documents Center (IRDC), 9 July 2022:
Interviewer: In recent years, the issue of the executions of the 1980s, and in particular those of 1988, has been brought up. Do you have any comment on this?
Hossein-Ali Nayyeri: That was a special period. The country was in a critical state. If it wasn’t for Imam [Khomeini]’s decisiveness, maybe we wouldn’t have this security at all. Maybe the situation would have been different. Perhaps the Islamic Republic would not have survived at all. There were 50 to 60 terrorist attacks each day in Tehran and other cities. In such critical circumstances what were we to do? We had to hand down verdicts decisively. He who is running the court and dealing with the cases has to resolve the cases. In such circumstances, we cannot run the country by offering them hugs and kisses!”
Interviewer: Some ask what was the need to try once again those who were already in prison and serving their sentences?
Hossein-Ali Nayyeri: They were not tried again for the same case. They staged riots in prisons once again. Even inside the prison, they had their cohesion. Not only did they have organisational interactions, but they had set up a new organisational structure inside the prisons. They would receive information from outside prison through the means that they knew of. The atmosphere of the prison was in their hands and therefore new conspiracies were at work. They weren’t just trying to serve their time.
It’s one thing for someone who, for example, has a five-year prison sentence to say, “I have to stay in prison for five years; why should I care about what they are they doing?” but these people had conspired and coordinated with outside [prison]. That is, they wanted to continue their malice. They said that we should cause economic harm to the regime. Let’s cut the phone cords. Let’s break the lamps, etc. The regime cannot be overthrown with such [trivial] acts. It was childish stubbornness like, for example, when a mother punishes a child, and the child goes somewhere and does something annoying. In a country with so much expenses, would the system be overthrown by breaking four light bulbs?
Interviewer: If they feigned repentance, would they still be pardoned?
Hossein-Ali Nayyeri: We were looking for excuses to release the person. What should we do with a 16 or 17-year-old kid who distributed four leaflets and has no prior history of fighting and now he is in prison? We would free him to go to his mother and father. The prison environment is a polluted environment. He would become worse if he stays there. Many of them learned to become criminals in prison. First, they would go to prison for a knife attack, but then they’d learn from four professional criminals how to be a proper criminal. Prison makes a person more skilled in crime. Therefore, in many cases, we tried not to keep these people in prison.