In the summer of 1988, the Iranian regime summarily and extra-judicially executed tens of thousands of political prisoners held in jails across Iran. The massacre was carried out on the basis of a fatwa by the regime’s then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini.
The report also contains some of the new events related to the 1988 massacre of the political prisoners. The report consists of the following issues:
A Crime Against Humanity
A Crime Against Humanity
In the final days of July 1988, a massacre was orchestrated in the political prisons of Iran. The bloodbath was launched based on a dateless decree (fatwa) with the stamp and signature of Khomeini, Supreme Leader and founder of the Islamic Republic. In 236 words, he signed the death sentences for all prisoners supporting the main opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK):
“Those who are in prisons throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the [PMOI/MEK] are waging war on God and are condemned to execution…”
Khomeini’s “Death Decree” for mass executions of Iranian political prisoners in 1988
Khomeini assigned the fates of those prisoners already sentenced to specific terms, who held fast to their beliefs, to three individuals who comprised what came to be known as the “death committee” in Tehran, and to similar committees in the provincial capitals. He demanded that “Those who are making the decisions must not show any mercy, and be full of “anger and hatred” and “not to hesitate”, in carrying out the executions.
Members of the death committee
In a very short question and answer exchange lasting only a few minutes, the death committees first asked each prisoner to state his or her political affiliation. If they mentioned the name Mojahed (MEK), their fate was sealed and the questions would end. However, if the prisoner used the term “Monafeq,” meaning “hypocrite,” the pejorative term used by Khomeini for the MEK, he or she was returned to the prison wards.
These rushed interviews determined the death committee’s decision as to whether the prisoner remained faithful to the MEK, and if she or he would be executed or not. All those declared loyalists were executed. Hastily carried out in the weeks of summer 1988, this process essentially emptied the prisons of the prisoners affiliated with MEK.
Khomeini’s heir protests haste of executions prisoners in the 1988 massacre
On August 9, 2016, relatives of Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Khomeini’s former heir, published a shocking audio tape in which Montazeri can be heard telling a meeting of members of the “Death Committee” 28 years ago (August 15, 1988) that they are carrying out a crime against humanity. The Montazeri tape revealed new information about the scope and breadth of the massacre of political prisoners at the time. It has sent shockwaves in Iran and in particular among the regime’s officials who had for more than two decades attempted to impose an absolute silence on the massacre.
The clip also showed that the Iranian regime’s leaders who held positions of power since the beginning of the regime’s establishment must face justice for committing one of the most horrific crimes against humanity.
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.”
The Montazeri Tape
Khomeini required total conformity from the regime’s officials
All officials of the regime at the time had to conform fully to this massacre or they would be sacked or deposed. Ayatollah Montazeri, who protested the massacre, fell from grace and was sacked by Khomeini in March 1989. Montazeri’s memoirs in December 2000 and its shocking enclosures exposed the horrendous scale of the massacre. What gave weight to the revelations is that they were made by a man who was at the time of the executions the officially ordained successor to Khomeini and the second-highest authority in Iran. Yet when it came to massacring political prisoners, Khomeini showed no mercy to slightest nonconformity even by Montazeri.
The waves of carnage
The carnage can be separated into several distinct waves. First, the extensive executions of MEK in Evin prison in Tehran and Gohardasht prison, located in the outskirts of Karaj, 40 km from the capital. These are considered the heart of the massacre in political terms, in that for various reasons, including their location allowing Iranian society to learn more about events than in other prisons, this wave of killings is the most well documented with information and confessions.
Second, the executions which took place simultaneously in the political prisons of at least 100 other cities, as part of the purge of political prisoners nationwide. The information has not been obtained from a considerable number of those prisons.
Third, the executions of former political prisoners affiliated with the MEK who were not in prison when Khomeini’s verdict was issued. They were rearrested and immediately sent to the gallows.
Fourth, the executions of Marxist prisoners, killed based on Khomeini’s fatwa or some other decree to which we still don’t have access.
The Marxist prisoners were summoned for interviews toward the end of August 1988. This time, each prisoner was questioned regarding his or her religious beliefs.
Fifth, the executions targeting people not serving prison sentences, who had been arrested for their efforts to aid the National Liberation Army. After a few days of incarceration, they were executed on the orders of the kangaroo courts.
Reports and evidence verify that the killings continued until the first months of 1989. Among the last victims were some of the prisoners whose political affiliation had not been determined, but who were killed on Khomeini’s subsequent orders to the death committees.
This massacre has been condemned as a crime against humanity by human rights advocates and NGO’s worldwide. It is among the most important events during the rule of Khomeini and had a long-lasting and profound effect on the relationship of the regime and Iranian society.
This report details what happened and who was responsible, revealing irrefutable evidence of the unchanging nature of the regime. Leaders of both the “hardliners” and “reformists” either engaged or cooperated directly in the massacre or admitted knowledge of it. In fact, over the course of time, those responsible for the massacre received higher positions in the political hierarchy.
One of the most odious examples is that of Ibrahim Raeisi, one of the members of the death committee in Tehran. In 2015, Khamenei appointed him the custodian of the Astan-e Quds Razavi Foundation, a multi-billion-dollar institution that administers the tomb of Imam Reza in Mashad. The appointment promoted him to a 4th or 5th level cleric, considered politically among the highest of the ruling theocracy. A year later, once again on the orders of Khamenei and with the full support of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, he was nominated as a presidential candidate. Public outrage denied him the presidency, but later he was chosen by Khamenei as the head of the regime’s judiciary. He is also a member of the Expediency Council.
Other members of the death committees also hold key positions in the judicial system and other of the regime’s institutions.
President Hassan Rouhani’s current judicial minister, Alireza Avail, was a member of the death committee in the southern province of Khuzestan. Before him, Mostafa Pour Mohammadi held the post for four years in Roujani’s first administration; he was a member of the death committee in Tehran.
In 2016 and 2017, questions about the 1988 massacre re-surfaced in the public outrage against Raeisi’s candidacy, and a new justice movement was formed. Many officials and their accomplices forgot about their previous denials and began openly defending their roles in the killings. Included among them was Khamenei, who displayed no signs of regret. Quite the contrary, these public admissions only underscored the integral role the massacre had played in the make-up of the ruling regime.
Even though almost three decades have passed since the massacre, it does not belong to the past. It is strongly tied to the Iranian people’s quest for freedom and is at the heart of the Resistance to bring the perpetrators of this crime against humanity to justice.