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Iran’s 1988 massacre was years in the making, survivor says

In the summer of 1988, more than 30,000 political prisoners, members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) were executed based on a fatwa by Ruhollah Khomeini
In the summer of 1988, more than 30,000 political prisoners, members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) were executed based on a fatwa by Ruhollah Khomeini

Reporting by PMOI/MEK

Iran, October 1, 2021—For years Iranian regime apologists and various appeasement circles have claimed that the summer 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in Iran was in retaliation of a three-day military campaign launched by the Iranian opposition People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) that same year. This couldn’t be further from the truth and such a claim aims to whitewash, and even justify, the regime’s atrocities that are being described by experts as crimes against humanity and genocide.

There is evidence and now eyewitness accounts that the mullahs’ regime had been preparing for the literal purging of thousands of political prisoners, mostly PMOI/MEK members and supporters, from as early as 1985.

“My name is Majid Saheb Jam. I am a former political prisoner and supporter of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, MEK. I spent 17 years in Evin, Ghezelhesar, the Joint Committee, and Gohardasht prisons. During the massacre of political prisoners in 1988, I was at Gohardasht Prison and in the Death Corridor. I witnessed the crimes committed by the clerical regime’s agents and in this particular instance Hamid Noury, or Hamid Abbasi.”

“The 1988 massacre, as public opinion knows about it today, was prepared years before. There are evidence and documents that in 1985 and 1986, and especially 1987, the groundwork was being prepared for the start of executions in 1988 by categorizing prisoners that they thought are committed to the MEK on the basis of the sentence and the activities he/she had conducted.”

The regime had established numerous “Death Committees” to determine the fate of each political prisoner in kangaroo trials that lasted two or three minutes. Current regime President Ebrahim Raisi is best known for his leading role in Tehran’s Death Commission, sending thousands to their deaths. This in itself is further evidence that the regime and its so-called judiciary had been planning for some time and established a specific apparatus to carry out the massacre.

“In 1982, I was imprisoned for supporting the MEK. The initial ruling sentenced me to 12 years in prison. Trials that lasted 2 to 3 minutes, including the trial that was headed by Nayyeri, who was the chair of the Death Committee in 1988. In these so-called trials, we did not have anything to say. We either said yes or no. And in 2, 3, 4 minutes, the so-called trial was over,” Mr. Saheb Jam added in his interview.

“It should also be reminded that those who survived in Iranian prisons had very light cases, like selling publications or distributing leaflets, or participating in assemblies and gatherings of the organization. So, if anyone had conducted activities beyond this would not even live to serve the remainder of his/her sentence. So, the majority of the MEK in prison had conducted political activities, activities that today are said to be peaceful, to promote their programs and political ideas,” he continued.

The end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988 and the following PMOI/MEK military campaign only has been used by the mullahs’ regime as a pretext to justify their pre-planned genocide with the aim to completely eradicate the threat of the opposition PMOI/MEK.

“… in 1988, after the initial preparations by the Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) intelligence, and headed by Khomeini and his office and son, simultaneous with the end of the [Iran-Iraq] war, they wanted to, in their own words, also conclude the dossier of prisons. How would they do conclude the prison dossier? Well, the only way they know-how. They could not conclude the prison dossier by opening prison doors and freeing prisoners, but by massacring the prisoners.

“With respect to the executions and massacre of 1988, I want to underscore this important point, which I referred to before. The issue of the identity of political forces and especially the MEK was the source of confrontation since day one with Khomeini. The use of the word ‘Mojahed.’ As everyone knows, even today in the official documentation of the clerical regime, there is nothing known as the ‘Mojahedin,’ or MEK but rather the ‘Monafeqin.’ So, our identity was questioned since day one. The identity of the MEK as a political and religious group, with progressive ideas, could not and would not be accepted by them, something that has continued to this very day. And one of the conclusions of this rejection of our identity surfaced in the massacre.

“… the core issue of the massacre was the declaration of the imprisoned MEK members about accepting the identity of a Mojahed or do you still accept the MEK as a political organization. The yes or no answer to this question would seal the individual’s fate,” Mr. Saheb Jam emphasized.

Various horrific aspects of the 1988 massacre, including the fact that even those arrested as minors were not spared, shed more light on the regime’s sheer brutality and the threat it felt directly from the PMOI/MEK. Unfortunately, there are few families in Iran that have not been devastated by the regime’s horrific record of human rights violations, including the 1988 massacre.

“At the time of arrest, some of the prisoners were minors, under the age of 18. These were MEK supporters that spent years in prison. I can name a few among my own friends. For example, Ardalan Darafarin. They were arrested when they were under the age of 18 and executed later in the massacre. Afshin Memaran, Mehran Samadi, Baqar Qandehari, and many other individuals who would be considered minors, arrested under the age of 18, and later executed in the massacre. Or, it was said that the Pardon Committee had said that we have executed only one person from each family, and we tried not to execute more than one person from each family. This was also a complete lie.

“Again, I remember friends like Hossein Mirzai, killed by the regime, had a sister who was executed in the city of Hamedan. Saeed and Arfa Jebreili, two brothers, who spent many years with me, were both executed. Ahmad and Hossein Razaghi, from a well-known family who lived in northern Tehran, and many people knew them, were brothers and both executed. Asghar and Hamid Khezri, and many other families who lost two or three of their children in the massacre,” Mr. Saheb Jam said.

The regime’s killing machine went the distance to spare no mercy for anyone showing even the slightest affiliation to the PMOI/MEK. This included the severely ill who, even if spared and released from prison, would pose no threat to the regime whatsoever.

“A very sad and painful scene that I personally cannot ever forget is the scene of transferring two of my friends, supporters of the MEK, one of whom had received a brain injury in prison and suffered from extreme epilepsy. On the day of execution, his epilepsy acted up in a bad way. His name was Kaveh Nassara. He was executed in that condition. In order to take him to the execution hall, another prisoner was holding him up so he wouldn’t fall. The Khomeini regime and henchman Raisi and Hamid Noury and others involved took such people to their execution. I witnessed another one of my friends in the Death Corridor. He was Nasser Mansouri. He had a spinal cord injury and was laying on a stretcher. He couldn’t even move. They brought him from the prison clinic to the Death Committee, the so-called trial set up by Khomeini and Raisi and Hamid Noury participated in it.

“Then they took him on a stretcher to the Death Corridor, and at that time he was roughly in front of me. Lying a stretcher as he suffered from a spinal cord injury. How can a person with a spinal cord injury can even be physically executed? This cruelty was applied against civilians and prisoners,” Mr. Saheb Jam continued.

Victims’ names and evidence of the 1988 massacre continued to be gathered by various human rights organizations, the PMOI/MEK and their network inside Iran, alongside various activists, to help in the effort of bringing all perpetrators of this genocide to justice.

“Morteza Borz Abadi, Ebrahim Akbari Sefat, Bijan Keshavarz, my friend from northern Iran who promised to take me to his house in Rasht but unfortunately it didn’t happen; Hadi Saberi, Hossein Mahjoubi, Ma’boud Sokouti, Bahman Moussapour, Mohsen Mohammad Baqer, who was also incidentally physically disabled from birth and had appeared in one of the famous movies directed by Mr. Beyzai, which I think was called “Stranger and fog.” People can watch the movie now and they will see this kid who was later hanged as a supporter of the MEK during the massacre.

“He remained committed to his vow and ideal as an artist. He had a cane which he used to walk in the Death Corridor and went to the execution hall. Dariush Hanifeh Pour, Shirang Dorostkar, and my other friends, who today their mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers, and relatives are gathering in front of the criminal Hamid Noury’s trial and also other courts to take place in the future,” Mr. Saheb Jam concluded.

The 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in Iran has been described as the worst crime against humanity since World War II.

A former Iranian Intelligence Ministry deputy recorded a video clip in 2008, in which he revealed that the mullahs’ regime had massacred some 33,700 political prisoners and buried them in mass graves. According to Reza Malek, there are between 170 to 190 mass graves across the country.

More recently, Geoffrey Robertson, QC, who has thoroughly investigated the 1988 massacre, underscored that this mass killing amounts to “genocide.”

“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,” he said in an online conference held in late August.

“It seems to me that there is very strong evidence that this was a genocide. It applies to killing or torturing a certain group for their religious beliefs. A religious group that did not accept the backward ideology of the Iranian regime,” Robertson added referring to Khomeini’s fatwa as the basis of the massacre.

“There is no doubt that there is a case for prosecuting [regime 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,” he reiterated.