By NASSER SHARIF,
REGISTER, September 18, 2017-- Amidst talk of Iran’s violations of the nuclear deal, a resolution was introduced in the U.S. Congress, censuring the Tehran regime for the mass murder of thousands of dissidents in 1988. The massacre claimed the lives of an estimated 30,000 prisoners of conscience, mostly activists of the leading Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.
One of the worst political massacres of the 20th century, the killings were largely met with silence by the international community. Secrecy was reinforced for several decades by a conspiracy of silence orchestrated by the clerical regime. So, despite the tremendous human cost, the episode effectively went unacknowledged. Any call in Iran for an investigation was severely punished.
This all changed last year when an audio recording surfaced, in which the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri is heard condemning his colleagues over their participation in what he described as “the greatest crime of the Islamic Republic.” At that time, Montazeri was the second highest official in Iran, heir apparent to Khomeini. He was later demoted for his dissenting views.
In the recording, Montazeri detailed the severity of some of the violations, including executions of minors and pregnant women. Any disloyalty to the clerical regime was sufficient to justify a death sentence, even among political prisoners who had already served out their sentences.
The trials were generally carried out in a matter of minutes by a “death committee,” whose members remain in positions of power and influence in Tehran to this day. One leading perpetrator featured in the audio tape, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, was Justice Minister during Hassan Rouhani’s first term as president, only to be replaced by Alireza Avayi, who oversaw the mass executions in the southwestern province of Khuzestan.
At the Paris gathering, held on July 1, 2017, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Maryam Rajavi, gave voice to the Iranian people’s demand for justice: “Khamenei and other leaders of the regime must face justice for flagrant violations of human rights and their crimes against humanity, particularly the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran and for their war crimes in the region.”
In August 2017, the 1988 massacre was at last highlighted by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who wrote: “The families of the victims have a right to know the truth about these events and the fate of their loved ones without risking reprisal. They have the right to a remedy, which includes the right to an effective investigation of the facts and public disclosure of the truth; and the right to reparation. “
Prominent rights groups, such as Amnesty International, which released a 94-page report, also underscored that Iranian officials have never been held accountable.
Such calls have been instrumental in keeping alive the activism against further atrocities. In the run-up to the May 19 elections in which Rouhani won his second presidential term, banners and graffiti appeared in cities throughout Iran proclaiming him an “imposter” because of the vast difference between his supposed moderate credentials and his actual record, including his appointment of Pourmohammadi (whom he praised as a “human rights defender”).
Interestingly, the alternative to a second Rouhani term was Ebrahim Raisi, another leading perpetrator of the massacre.
Iranian prisons are swelling with activists courageously demanding justice. The UN Special Rapporteur “raised the case of Maryam Akbari Monfared, who had been denied medical treatment and threatened with the cancellation of her visitation rights for having published a letter calling for an investigation into the executions of 1988.”
The world needs to act to bring long overdue justice to the victims of this massacre. The U.S. Congress has acted appropriately, filing House Resolution 188 in March, which urges the U.S. administration “to publicly condemn the massacre” while calling on the UN “to create a Commission of Inquiry to fully investigate the massacre.” Sponsors include the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., with 56 co-sponsors (30 Republicans and 26 Democrats) to date.
Despite a harsh crackdown, in universities and on the streets, in blogs and social media, the Iranian people are demanding justice. The regime’s rabid reprisals, however, emphasize that genuine change will not come from within its decaying halls of power. It will come will come at the hands of the Iranian people and their organized opposition movement, which have already paid a hefty price for freedom. More power to them.
Nasser Sharif is president of the California Society for Democracy in Iran.