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“Defending the MEK meant certain death,” recalls a survivor of Iran’s 1988 massacre

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 of 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 of Ruhollah Khomeini

Reporting by PMOI/MEK

Iran, October 12, 2021—During the summer of 1988 the mullahs’ regime in Iran carried out a horrific campaign of mass killings in prisons checkered throughout the country. Political prisoners from all walks of life were sent to the gallows in the hundreds, leading to the executions of more than 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members and supporters of the Iranian opposition People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Mr. Mohammad Reza Zand is among the few 1988 massacre survivors. Those executed saw their fates sealed by the notorious “Death Commissions” consisting of a mere handful of officials in kangaroo trials that lasted a few minutes at max. Each political prisoner was only asked a few questions, mainly demanding from the prisoner to clarify their current affiliation with the PMOI/MEK. According to a fatwa issued by regime founder and then Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, all political prisoners insisting on their loyalty and/or support to the MEK in any way would need to be executed immediately.

“My name is Mohammad Reza Zand. I was a college student when arrested on July 28, 1981, for supporting the PMOI/MEK. I spent 11 years in Evin, Ghezelhesar, and Gohardasht prisons, all in or near Tehran. During the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, 90% of whom were members and supporters of the MEK, I was at Gohardasht Prison,” Mr. Zand said.

“It was July 28, 1988, when we had gathered in protest of the suspension of delivery of newspapers. A Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) prison guard came and took me and around ten others out and started beating us. One of my ribs and toes were broken. Others were also severely beaten. They asked us why were in prison, to which we answered for supporting the MEK. They sent us back inside, saying they will come back on Saturday. This was on Thursday, July 28, 1988, at night,” he added.

Despite the regime’s claims of the 1988 executions being in response to the MEK’s late July 1988 military campaign into Iran, eyewitness accounts of survivors such as Mr. Zand make it crystal clear that the mullahs had been planning for the mass killings from months, if not years beforehand.

“During a year-long period, we and other prisoners were interrogated about our charges and the length of our prison terms. They were categorizing the inmates. Prisoners were taken away, like those with lifetime sentences. Transfers were taking place. In these transfers, for example, they had told Massoud Moqbeli that ‘we are going to seal your fate.’ So, we were expecting something, but that was all we knew at the time,” Mr. Zand continues.

“At around 8 or 9 in the morning of Saturday, July 30, an IRGC guard read out about 20 names, including that of my brother Reza Zand. My brother had a rosary and a ring. He gave them to me and said keep these as souvenirs. I became anxious and asked ‘Why? Keep them yourself.’ I was speculating that they would take him to solitary confinement because of our recent protests. He said I don’t know why I feel this way, but I don’t think we’ll ever see each other again. Sometime before that, when he had seen our mother, he had said the exact same thing,” Mr. Zand explained.

“I didn’t take the souvenirs. Another friend kept them, and Reza left. After they took them, we lost contact with them. Of course, something would happen that made us more suspicious that executions were taking place. On August 4, while communicating through morse code, we were able to contact Dariush Hanifeh Pour Ziba. They had not executed yet. Through him we realized that the executions had begun, with him saying that the regime is the midst of a massacre,” Mr. Zand added.

It was of utter importance for the mullahs’ regime to literally eradicate the PMOI/MEK in its entirety. This required secrecy and swift action, to which the regime went to great lengths.

“On August 4, the entire ward that we were in was emptied. We were taken to rooms called ‘Darbasteh’ until August 6, when they read out our names and took us to the Death Committee. We used to sit in a hallway dubbed the ‘Death Corridor’ leading to a room where the Death Committee was. The Death Committee included Hossein-Ali Nayyeri, the chief of the committee, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the deputy Intelligence Minister representative, Eshraqi, and Ebrahim Raisi, who represented the deputy prosecutor. This was the four-member committee. On some days three of them were present, some days four. But this committee, whether in Gohardasht or Evin, consisted of these four officials,” Mr. Zand continued.

“I was taken to the Death Committee by Mohammad Mir Moqisseh, the prison warden and under the pseudonym of Nasserian. He was also the deputy prosecutor. Before sitting and removing my blindfold, he said: ‘We have executed your brother, and if you don’t accept our terms, we will execute you, too.’ I was shocked. Then, Nayyeri asked: ‘Do you know why you’re here?’ I immediately asked: ‘Why did you execute my brother? He was serving a 10-year sentence and had completed seven years of it!’ Nayyeri changed the subject and said: ‘What is your position yourself?’ I answered: ‘I don’t have an opinion, answer my question,’” Mr. Zand recalled.

“They sent me out and I saw a number of other friends being taken to the Death Committee. This included Nasser Mansouri, whose spinal cord was injured. They wanted him to expose the activists’ organization in prison and he had refused. He had thrown himself off the second floor and his back was broken. He was taken before the Death Committee on a stretcher and from there to be executed,” Mr. Zand explained, shedding light on the regime’s cruel viciousness even towards a crippled prisoner.

A court in Stockholm is currently hearing the case raised against an Iranian regime operative by the name of Hamid Noury for his role in the 1988 massacre. Dozens of survivors and witnesses are testifying and describing in gruesome detail Noury’s crimes, demanding that all senior regime officials should face justice in international tribunals for their crimes against humanity, especially the summer 1988 massacre.

“There, I saw Hamid Noury, who was the chief of staff of Nasserian; his name was Hamid Abbasi. Another individual by the name of Davoud Lashkari was in charge of prison security. I saw that Hamid Noury and him coming from the end of the hall, which we later found out led to the place of executions, with a bunch of blindfolds in his hands. After he returned, Lashkari went and Hamid Noury read out names—not full names but only the first name—and the name of the father, so that no one would find out what’s going on,” Mr. Zand described.

“After some people of the inmates went, including Mahmoud Zaki, I asked him what did you say? He said I told them I am a member of the MEK. Mahmoud was taken and executed. The executions had started on July 30. The first group that was executed included those who had been transferred there from Mashhad Prison. They had all defended the MEK. All of them had said that we would defend the MEK and Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. The majority of the prisoners would say we are MEK, or they would stress that we are members of the Massoud Rajavi organization. The executions happened on this basis and nothing else. The position of a MEK member would equal execution,” Mr. Zand emphasized.

This is further clarification about how the regime considers any affiliation to the PMOI/MEK as a red line. The brutality of the mullahs’ regime skyrockets in the face of PMOI/MEK members and/or supporters, leaving no room for any mercy and as seen during the 1988 massacre, sending all to the gallows.

This has continued to this day, such as the case of Gholamreza Khosravi, a PMOI/MEK supporter who merely provided a financial contribution to an Iranian Resistance satellite TV network critical of the mullahs’ regime and their ongoing human rights violations. Khosravi was executed by the mullahs for his “crime.”

“At any rate, this Death Committee executed thousands of people in Evin and Gohardasht prisons. In other prisons, other Death Committees did the same. Today, Raisi has become the regime’s president. This was someone who according to international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, must be tried for crimes against humanity. That is why I hope one day the people of Iran can witness the trial and punishment of all the perpetrators and decision-makers of the 1988 massacre and all the regime’s mass murders against the MEK over the past 40 years. I hope that in particular Khamenei and Raisi would be put on trial soon,” Mr. Zand concluded.

Regime President Ebrahim Raisi is best known for his direct role in Iran’s summer 1988 massacre, being one of the main members of the mullahs’ notorious “Death Commissions” responsible for determining the fates of each political prisoner during the massacre in kangaroo trials that lasted mere minutes. All political prisoner showing signs of loyalty to the PMOI/MEK in any way were immediately sentenced to certain death.

Raisi and other regime officials have committed genocide and crimes against humanity and should be held accountable in international tribunals. The world community should not provide these criminals any kind of legitimacy and instead, choose to stand alongside the Iranian people in their ongoing struggle to reach justice.