From the beginning of the massacre in the years 1988 and 1989, Khomeini and his subordinates implemented a systematic plan to bury the bodies of the martyrs in secret mass graves. The primary objective was to prevent families and the public at large from using the cemeteries as a gathering place for protests. The long term goal was to so annihilate the MEK as to leave no sign of them whatsoever.
In February 1989, the MEK found access to the confidential documents of the commander of the Komitehs in Tehran Province. In one memo, he instructed all Komitehs in Tehran Province to proceed with “precise control over the graves of the dead and their families.” The document is an example of several issued during that time with instructions to security forces on Khomeini’s fatwa.
The public and international outcry against the group executions nonetheless mounted, and a year after the massacre, in the fall of 1989, Tehran’s prosecutor told some of the families of the victims that they could submit their child’s birth certificate to the prosecutor and receive the location of the grave. The measure was a ruse intended to defuse any protests. Some of the families who supposedly received the whereabouts of their child’s grave carried out an exhumation, but there was no sign of any bodies. In other cases, prison officials informed families that their loved ones had been executed in the first few months after the killings began, but gave out no information on burial sites.
A few weeks after the start of the massacre, the Iranian Resistance began discovering the secret graves and revealing them.
On 10 October 1988, the MEK revealed:
- The secret burial of 80 bodies in Behesht Reza Cemetery in Mashhad.
- The discovery of the grave of 45 executed prisoners near the prison in the small city of Abkenar, outside Bandar Anzali on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
- The discovery of a nightly operation by the Revolutionary Guards, digging holes for use as mass graves near the entrance to Anzali.
- The secret burial of a large group of those executed in Evin Prison in a section of Behesht Zahra Cemetery in Tehran, which was then covered over with a bulldozer.
On 2 December 1988, the MEK revealed:
- The discovery after a rainfall of a mass grave in Manjil, 2 km west of the Tehran-Rasht Road.
- Clashes between the Revolutionary Guards and the public after the discovery of ten bodies of MEK prisoners in two mass graves in Kalachai and Roodsar.
On 18 January 1989, the secretariat of the MEK revealed:
- The discovery of a mass grave near Soome’e Sara – Kesma road in the northern province of Gilan.
- The burial site of a large number of those executed near the Armenian cemetery close to the Khavaran road. Since the graves were shallow, wild dogs had pulled out some of the remains, revealing the secret grave.
- The secret transfer of bodies of political prisoners to Bagh Reza cemetery in Isfahan.
- The burial of some bodies in a large hole in section 93 of Behesht Zahra cemetery in Tehran.
- The discovery of the graves of some of the executed in sections 106, 107, 108, and 109 of Behesht Zahra Cemetery in Tehran.
On 21 February 1989, villagers discovered several mass graves alongside the Chaloos – Tehran road. Many shoes like those worn by prisoners were also found.
Despite the years of enforced silence by the government, the secret mass graves have remained a pressing issue among the Iranian public. The few that have been identified, including Khavaran in particular in South Tehran, have become respected memorial sites for the MEK and those massacred. For this reason, the mullahs’ regime has endeavored to destroy the sites, including a part of Khavaran, where expanded excavation with bulldozers and tree-planting from 9-16 January 2009 was opposed by the Iranian public and prompted international reactions.
It is estimated that thousands of those massacred have been buried in Khavaran and Behesht Zahra cemeteries in Tehran.
Families found out that their children had been buried in different parts, especially in blocks 108 – 87 of Behesht Zahra. The mother of one victim has testified that in Behesht Zahra cemetery, the regime first dug a large hole in section 92 and then buried a number of the executed there, but a year later, began selling the plots and burying the bodies of ordinary dead on top of the massacred.
Two events in Mashhad and Ahvaz in 2017 are mentioned in the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran’s report. In paragraph 71 of her report:
“In March, families who visited a mass grave located in the city of Mashhad, Razavi Khorasan Province, where up to 170 political prisoners are believed to be buried, reportedly discovered that the previously flat area had been covered with soil to create a raised mound over the grave. In mid-May, bulldozers were reportedly seen working on a construction project directly alongside the mass grave site at Ahvaz, located on a barren piece of land 3 km east of Behesht Abad Cemetery, where the remains of at least 44 people killed during the summer of 1988 are believed to be located. The plan is reportedly to ultimately raze the concrete block marking the gravesite and build a “green space” or commercial development over the site.” (Secretary-General, United Nations, “Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran”, 14 August 2017)
Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action statement “to prevent the destruction of the mass graves of the victims of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in the city of Ahvaz in Khuzestan Province in the South of Iran – a place where the bodies of dozens of the thousands of political prisoners who were sentenced to death by sham courts of the government officials in August and September of 1988 has been buried.” (Amnesty International, 4 September 2017)
Locations of 36 mass graves
In 2016 and 2017, PMOI/MEK supporters in Iran managed to obtain new information on hidden graves, including information identifying graves and mass graves in 36 cities. Excluding the two major mass graves, Khavaran and Behesht Zahra already referred to, the cities include Ahvaz, Andimeshk, Behbahan, Masjid Soleiman, Rasht, Bandar Anzali, Lahijan, Manjil (Roodbar), Soome’e Sara, Gorgan, Bandar Gaz, Isfahan, Kerman, Kermanshah, Mashhad, Orumieh, Saleh Abad (Mehran), Shiraz, Tabriz, Zahedan, Dezfool, Zanjan, Naishabour, Sanandaj, Qarveh, Babol, Qaemshahr, Tonekabon, Semnan, Sangsar, Karaj, Shahrekord, Bandar Abbas, Minab, Boroujerd, and Hamedan.
The information obtained in each province is as follows: