On August 25, 1988, a tragedy struck in Iran, one that most people do not know about. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa that led to the execution of 30,000 Iranian political prisoners.

That fatwa led to “the biggest massacre of political prisoners since World War II.” Khomeini targeted members and those loyal to the opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK).

Justice for Victims of 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVNMI) wants to bring attention to this massacre not only for the victims and survivors, but also because no one faced justice. Authorities buried the victims in unmarked mass graves. Many of those who served on the panels that sent these people to their deaths work in high positions of the current Iranian regime.

The Fatwa

From the JVMI:

Khomeini’s decree 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.”

The decree was so ruthless even by the standards of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that the Chief Justice sought clarification with the following questions:

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 also condemned to death?

2. Those Monafeqin [PMOI] prisoners who have received limited jail terms, and who have already served part of their terms, 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 centre, or can the county’s judicial authorities act autonomously?

Khomeini’s response was even more ruthless: “In all the above cases, if the person at any stage or at any time maintains his [or her] support for the Monafeqin [PMOI], 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.”

Death Commissions

Khomeini ordered the formation of “Death Commissions,” which consisted of three members on a panel, and those people had the responsibility “to implement his order of executing all political prisoners remaining loyal to their belief and political affiliation.”

The panel had to have a religious judge, prosecutor, and Ministry of Intelligence:

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 [sic] regime were also executed.

A Survivor Speaks

My dear friend Hanif Jazayeri at the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a man who works tirelessly to bring attention to the uprising against the regime, sent me a testimony from a survivor.

Mostafa Naderi

This is Mostafa Naderi. He is a former Iranian political prisoner and survived the 1988 massacre. Authorities arrested him in 1981 due to his support of MEK and handing out their publications. For eight days, officials interrogated and tortured him, “including beating, lashing with cables, hanging from the ceiling and other forms of torture.”

The regime held Naderi at the Gohardasht and Evin prisons for five years in solitary confinement, which is where he was at when the massacre began. Naderi told me:

The regime started to separate the prisoners based on their sentences and political belief two years before the start of the massacre. Prior to the start of the massacre they were repeatedly saying that “we will solve the problem of political prisoners and will not allow any of you to get out of the prison alive”.

And in 1988, the regime took the opportunity to start the massacre. I heard the news of executions while in solitary confinement, through communicating in Morse code with my adjoining cell. Personally I witnessed that none of the 250 prisoners in the top section of Ward 3 of Evin Prison survived. From about 200 prisoners in Evin Ward 3’s lower section, all but two were executed.

At the time I was in solitary confinement, they used to take the prisoners to the so-called court and then bring them back to the solitary cells. There were about 500 to 600 solitary cells and all of them were filled with prisoners. They took them away and executed them, and their personal belongings were placed in a bag in front of their cells. They took me away for interrogations a couple of time. But I was never taken to their so-called court.

He escaped the Death Commissions due to kidney failure from the torture and remained unconscious at the prison hospital. Guards called for his name to see the Death Commission, but since he could not answer, they did not take him away:

At that time, when they were clearing out the wards, they did not have enough time to check the list of names and they took the prisoners away ward by ward and then, as I heard later, it was in the court that they asked the prisoner’s name because the trials were not based on the sentences or the crimes or anything else.

Finally, when we returned to the ward, I just realized that they had executed all the prisoners and as far as I know and the statistics that I collected from other prisoners and their wards, there were about 12,000 prisoners in Evin Prison of which only 250 survived the massacre.

A prominent Iranian blogger revealed a memoir of one of the heads of the Evin prison during the massacres:

Rebellion From Within

Khomeini’s designated successor Hossein-Ali Montazeri rebelled against the executions from within. He penned numerous letters to the supreme leader to express his opposition to the massacre. This action led to his life-long house arrest. He died in 2009.

An audio of Montazeri during a meeting came out in August 2016. It shows that some of those on the death commission panels hold high positions in the current Iranian regime:

In the audio tape, Hossein-Ali Montazeri, who was subsequently dismissed as the heir by Khomeini, for these very remarks, tells members of the “death commission”, Hossein-Ali Nayyeri, the regime’s sharia judge, Morteza Eshraqi, the regime’s prosecutor, Ebrahim Raeesi, deputy prosecutor, and Mostafa Pourmohammadi, representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), “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 adds, “Executing these people while there have been no new activities (by the prisoners) means that … the entire judicial system has been at fault.”

Mostafa Pourmohammadi is currently 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 up 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 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 acts of suppression and export of terrorism, including funds spent for the war in Syria.

In the meeting, Montazeri tells Pourmohammadi that the MOIS had planned this massacre many months before. “(The ministry of) Intelligence wanted to do it (the massacre) and had made investments. And, Ahmad (Khomeini’s son) had been personally saying for three or four years (prior to the massacre) that the MEK (Mujahedin-e Khalq) must all be executed, even if they read their newspapers, publications and statements.,” he says, adding, “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.”

Montazeri exclaimed to the Death Commissions: “The greatest crime in the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed by you.”

You can listen to the full audio here:

Demands for Investigations

The massacre has been considered a taboo in Iranian society and hardly anyone has spoken up against it. That changed in the summer of 2016 and continues as Iranians stage protests against the oppressive regime:

In a report published on 2 August 2017, Amnesty International pointed to a campaign by Iran’s younger generation who seek an inquiry into the mass killings of political prisoners in 1988.

The report said: “Human rights defenders targeted for seeking truth and justice include younger human rights defenders born after the 1979 Revolution who have taken to social media and other platforms to discuss the past atrocities, and attended memorial gatherings held at Khavaran.”

It adds that there has been “a chain of unprecedented reactions from high-level officials, leading them to admit for the first time that the mass killings of 1988 were planned at the highest levels of government.”

A student from Tabriz University challenged a Revolutionary Guard: “Your theory and your discussions defend the horrific, inhumane, illegal and irreligious massacres of 1988. … We will neither forgive, nor forget your betrayals and crimes. Our people will avenge the pain and grief of the mothers [of the martyrs] of our nation.”

Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have asked “UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to support an internal investigation into the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran.”

Last year, the regime stopped destroying the mass graves out of fear of uprisings against the families. Now the regime has decided to go at it quickly. In July 2018, family members of victims went to visit the mass grave in Padadshahr District, but found people destroying the graves.

Marking the 30th Anniversary

Iranians across the world have participated today in events to remember the 1988 massacre, including those who survived and those who lost beloved family members.

The NGOs noted that the Iranian regime opening fire and cracking down on protesters echoes what happened in 1988.