The United States State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor on August 30, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, condemned the 1988 massacre of Iranian political prisoners. This unpunished crime has allowed the Iranian regime to continue human rights violations until now.
“The enforced disappearances Iran perpetrated as part of its so-called 1988 ‘death commissions,’ targeting thousands of political dissidents, continue unabated, as Iran continues to conceal the fate and the whereabouts of persons who have disappeared. Iran has failed to investigate or hold perpetrators accountable for these crimes and has promoted former death commission members to senior regime positions, including the head of the Iranian judiciary and the Minister of Justice,” the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor tweeted.
In the summer of 1988, the Iranian regime’s then-Supreme Leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa ordering the massacre of resistant political prisoners.
Khomeini’s fatwa produced the “death commissions,” which were tasked with carrying out the massacre. Prisoners were simply questioned whether they still hold their beliefs, and particularly, whether they still support the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). Whoever harbored resentment toward the mullahs’ regime that had tortured and imprisoned them, and those who still supported the MEK, were sent to the gallows.
On July 17, Morgan Ortagus, the spokesperson for the US State Department, highlighted the Iranian judiciary’s impunity in the wake of decades of human rights violations. “All Iranian officials who commit human rights violations or abuses should be held accountable,” she said. “The United States calls on the international community to conduct independent investigations and to provide accountability and justice for the victims of these horrendous violations of human rights organized by the Iranian regime.”
“July 19th marks the anniversary of the start of Iran. So-called death commissions on the orders of Ayatollah Khomeini. These commissions reportedly forcibly disappeared and extra-judicially executed thousands of political dissident prisoners. The current head of the Iranian judiciary and current minister of justice have both been identified as former members of these death commissions. The Iranian judiciary is widely perceived to lack independence and fair trial guarantees. And the revolutionary courts are particularly egregious in ordering violations of human rights. All Iranian officials who commit human rights violations or abuses should be held accountable. The United States calls on the international community to conduct independent investigations and do provide accountability and justice for the victims of these horrendous violations of human rights, organized by the Iranian regime,” she said in a video message on Twitter.
Thirty-two years have elapsed, and this crime has stayed unpunished. Amnesty International has called this massacre “a crime against humanity.” Many of the members of the death commissions, including the current head of the regime’s Judiciary Ebrahim Raisi and Justice Minister Alireza Avaei, hold top positions in the ruling theocracy’s system. On August 28, 2016, then-Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi was quoted by the state-run Tasnim news agency as saying: “We are proud to have carried out God’s commandment with regard to the [MEK] and to have stood with strength and fought against the enemies of God and the people.”
The international community’s failure to punish the regime for its worst crime has served the mullahs a license to kill. It is no surprise that Iran now holds the highest execution record per capita in the world.
A clear example of how the regime has used its impunity over the 1988 massacre to continue killing at a large scale is the deadly crackdown on major protests across Iran in November 2019, when 1500 protesters were killed. Dozens were also killed by the regime’s security forces in the first series of the nationwide Iran protests in 2018.
News from Iran indicates this killing spree has not stopped.
Recently, the regime executed Mostafa Salehi, a father of two, who was arrested during the 2018 protests in the city of Isfahan, central Iran. In another recent development, the regime’s so-called revolutionary court in Shiraz sentenced Navid Afkari Sangari to two executions, prison and lashes. Navid’s two other brothers were sentenced to overall 81 years of prison and lashes. All three brothers were arrested during the 2018 protests.
The MEK has presented the international community the necessary documents of this crime, many of the mass graves in Iran have been identified, and dozens of survivors of this massacre are ready to testify. The international community owes all the Iranian people, particularly the victims of the 1988 massacre and their family members, a long-delayed justice.
Holding this regime to account for the 1988 massacre is the only possible solution against the regime’s ongoing human rights violations in Iran. The United Nations 75th General Assembly in September is an opportunity for the international community to honor its principles to decide to hold the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre to account.