Senior Iranian officials implicated in 1988 massacre report

Senior Iranian officials implicated in 1988 massacre report

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is surrounded by his supporters in Tehran, 01 February 1979. (AFP)

For decades, the Iranian regime has tried to systematically cover up one of its greatest crimes. Thirty years ago, in what became known as the 1988 massacre, Tehran began cleansing prisons of thousands of dissidents and opposition activists. Ultimately, an estimated 30,000 people lost their lives in the brutal massacre.

The human rights group Amnesty International last week released a comprehensive report on the slaughter. The 200-page report says that the disappeared “were mostly young men and women, some just teenagers, unjustly imprisoned because of their political opinions and non-violent political activities.” Their deaths were gruesome, as authorities scrambled to kill as many as possible as quickly as possible.

The massacre is thought to have started in July 1988, after which “gradually, terrifying rumors began to circulate about mass secret executions and the dumping of bodies in unmarked mass graves… The authorities have treated the killings as state secrets... and accused those who have leaked records related to the preparation, planning and coordinated implementation of the mass killings of ‘disclosing state secrets’ and ‘threatening national security’.”

In 2016, an audio recording of a 1988 meeting between the regime’s second most senior official at the time and a number of people involved in the killings was posted online. In it, Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, who had been named as Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini’s successor, says in chillingly blunt terms: “In my view, the biggest crime in the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed at your hands, and they’ll write your names as criminals in history.”

Montazeri was talking to senior members of the “death commission” in Tehran, the likes of which had been set up across the country to oversee the massacre of political prisoners. He had written letters to Khomeini, urging clerical rulers to refrain from a crime that now ranks alongside the Srebrenica massacre. Enraged, Khomeini removed Montazeri as his heir apparent.

The regime is trying to demonize the main opposition, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), whose members and sympathizers comprised the majority of the victims. The MEK’s attempts to uncover and document the crime has prompted the regime to launch a massive and expensive disinformation campaign against it, not to mention assassination and bombing attempts against MEK members, as witnessed in France this year.

The report says: “Amnesty International’s research leaves the organization in no doubt that... thousands of political dissidents were systematically subjected to enforced disappearance in Iranian detention facilities across the country and extrajudicially executed pursuant to an order issued by the Supreme Leader of Iran… Many of those killed were subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment in the process.”

As the regime struggles to curb growing protests and unrest linked to a disintegrating economy, the world must act to prevent future massacres. 

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

According to the findings of the international human rights group, most of the prisoners killed were imprisoned simply for their political opinions and for conducting peaceful activities like distributing pamphlets and newspapers or taking part in demonstrations.

The victims’ bodies were never returned to their families and the families were never informed of burial locations. What makes the pain even more unbearable for the loved ones of the massacre’s victims is a systematic ban on mourning and the continuing destruction of known graves.

The report also identifies senior officials linked to the death commissions, including Mostafa Pourmohammadi, who served as current President Hassan Rouhani’s minister of justice until 2017. His successor, Alireza Avaei, was the prosecutor general of Dezful in Khuzestan Province and participated in the death commission in that city. Rouhani’s Cabinet is stacked with such individuals and is considered one of the most security-focused Cabinets in the history of the regime.

Many other perpetrators of the massacre continue to serve in senior positions, including Ebrahim Raisi, the prosecutor general of Tehran in 1988, who ran for the presidency in 2017.

According to Amnesty, the release of the Montazeri audio recording “gave rise to an unprecedented wave of publicity around the mass prisoner killings of 1988.” The people of Iran and the world have begun to realize the scale and gravity of the 1988 massacre, and so the veil of secrecy so protected by the regime is being ripped to pieces.

The regime must be held accountable for this grave crime against humanity. Amnesty International has called on the UN and the international community as a whole to “establish an independent, impartial and effective international mechanism(s) to address impunity for the crimes against humanity and other crimes committed under international law.”

As the regime struggles to curb growing protests and unrest linked to a disintegrating economy, the world must act to prevent future massacres. The foundations of the current regime’s power structure, with Ali Khamenei as its head, were built on the 1988 massacre. The world must know that the authorities now in charge of Iran showed their true allegiance and unwavering fealty to the fundamentalist regime and its goals by having no qualms about ordering and implementing one of the greatest political crimes of the 20th century.

That should be an indicator that the world must side with the Iranian people and their organized opposition, which seek to overthrow the perpetrators of crimes against humanity.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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