Butchers of Tehran must be held to account
If the international community remains silent when it comes to the Iranian regime’s war crimes, it will only embolden and empower the theocratic establishment. Currently, the trial of one of the alleged perpetrators of a heinous crime — the massacre of 30,000 Iranian political prisoners in 1988 — is taking place in a Swedish court. Former prosecutor Hamid Nouri, 60, is accused of involvement in the massacre and is charged with “intentionally taking the life of a very large number of prisoners.”
This is the first time an official of the Iranian regime has faced a war crimes trial. What happened in 1988 was a ruthless, bloody and inconceivable massacre of political prisoners. It was a horrible crime against humanity and could be termed genocide, according to experts on international human rights law. As Geoffrey Robertson, a human rights barrister and first president of the UN’s Special Court for Sierra Leone, pointed out last month: “It has been a crime to kill prisoners for centuries. The difference is that if it amounts to a particular crime of genocide, there is an international convention that binds countries to take action and punish that genocide… There is no doubt that there is a case for prosecuting (Iranian President Ebrahim) Raisi and others. There has been a crime committed that engages international responsibility. Something must be done about it as has been done against the perpetrators of the Srebrenica massacre.”
The fundamentalist theocracy led the execution of thousands of political prisoners in its custody, violating all international laws and norms. Hearing about the strength and courage of those who sacrificed their lives for freedom should invoke immeasurable admiration.
In an ominous hand-written fatwa (religious decree), the regime’s then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini insisted in July 1988 that any prisoner who leans toward “hypocrisy” — defined as opposition to the ruling dictatorship — should be immediately executed. According to Human Rights Watch, the primary targets of this heinous crime against humanity were thousands of Muslim youths, members of the main opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq, who had angered the mullahs by offering a moderate, democratic and tolerant interpretation of Islam. Khomeini branded them “hypocrites” and thought that their annihilation was essential for the preservation of his regime.
The fundamentalist theocracy led the execution of thousands of political prisoners in its custody, violating all international laws and norms
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The theocracy’s brutality in 1988 has been unparalleled in many ways. During the massacre, a prisoner with epilepsy fainted after hearing about his execution order. But his condition did not prevent the regime from hanging him. He was carried by another political prisoner to a prison hall named the “Death Corridor,” where the prisoners waited for their turn to be delivered to the executioners.
Another prisoner, who was paralyzed after trying to commit suicide in an attempt to free himself from the grueling torture, was taken to the so-called Death Commission. In less than a minute, he was sentenced to death and taken on a stretcher to the execution hall. These historical testimonies were given to the Swedish court that is trying Nouri.
Following these gruesome crimes, the mullahs’ propaganda machine employed many tactics to hide its misdeeds and demonize the main victims. In order to avoid the public’s wrath and to deprive the victims of popular sympathy, the mullahs launched a well-funded campaign against the opposition. The regime has also done its utmost to erase all traces of the 1988 massacre by destroying the many mass graves that held the victims.
Tehran is adept at hiding its heinous crimes, primarily because it has enjoyed international impunity for so long. It tried to hide or otherwise mislead the public about the rape, torture and murder of Iranian-Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi in July 2003. And, more recently, the Iranian regime has shown consistent unwillingness to participate in a thorough investigation into the shooting down of a Ukrainian plane, which killed all 176 passengers, in January 2020. Many of the victims were Canadian citizens.
During June’s sham presidential election, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei paved the way for the presidency of Raisi, who is known as “the butcher of 1988.” The global human rights organization Amnesty International correctly demanded the prosecution of Raisi for his key role in the massacre. Many other human rights experts, including UN rapporteurs and scores of Western legislators, have since joined the call to open an investigation.
Will the international community finally act and hold the Iranian regime accountable for its crimes against humanity? Or will it continue to disregard the 1988 massacre, while appeasing today’s rulers of Iran, apparently assured that they will continue to enjoy international impunity? Only time will tell.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh