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Report by Amnesty Internationl: The Massacre of 1988‎



A report by Amnesty International

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‎1.2.1 The Massacre of 1988‎
In mid-1988, the pattern of political executions changed dramatically from piecemeal ‎reports of executions to a massive wave of killings which took place over several months. ‎Even now, two years after these events, it is still not clear how many people died during ‎the six- month period from July 1988 to January 1989. Amnesty International has ‎recorded the names of over 2,000 political prisoners reportedly executed during this ‎period. Iranian opposition groups, such as the PMOI, have suggested that the total was ‎much higher....‎
Since these events took place, Amnesty International has interviewed dozens of relatives ‎of execution victims, and a number of former political prisoners who were in prison at ‎the time when the mass killings were taking place. It has received written information ‎from many Iranians who believe that their friends or relatives were among the victims. ‎These accounts, taken together with statements by Iranian Government personalities, ‎have convinced Amnesty International that during this six-month period the biggest wave ‎of political executions since the early 1980s took place in Iranian prisons. ...‎
President Khamenei spoke in December 1988 of the decision taken by the Iranian ‎authorities to execute “those who have links from inside prison with the hypocrites ‎‎[PMOI] who mounted an armed attack inside the territory of the Islamic Republic”. An ‎open letter to Amnesty International from the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic ‎of Iran to the UN in New York stated: “Indeed, authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran ‎have always denied the existence of any political executions, but that does not contradict ‎other subsequent statements which have confirmed that spies and terrorists have been ‎executed.” (UN document A/44/153, 28 February 1989)....‎
The first sign that something was happening in the prisons came in July 1988 when family ‎visits to political prisoners were suspended. This was the beginning of months of ‎uncertainty and anguish for prisoners’ relatives as rumors began to spread that mass ‎executions of political prisoners were taking place.‎
No news of the political prisoners was heard for about three months. Relatives would go ‎to prisons on regular visiting days only to be turned away by prison guards. Some ‎brought clothing, medicines or money to the prisons hoping to get a signed receipt from ‎their imprisoned relatives as an indication that they were still alive.‎
Reports circulated among prisoners’ relatives that execution victims were being buried in ‎mass graves. Distraught family members searched the cemeteries for signs of newly dug ‎graves which might contain their relatives’ bodies.‎
One woman described to Amnesty International how she had dug up the corpse of an ‎executed man with her bare hands as she searched for her husband’s body in Jadeh ‎Khavaran Cemetery in Tehran in August 1988 in a part of the cemetery known ‎colloquially as Lanatabad, (the place of the damned), reserved for the bodies of executed ‎political prisoners. “Groups of bodies, some clothed, some in shrouds, had been buried in ‎unmarked shallow graves in the section of the cemetery reserved for executed leftist ‎political prisoners. The stench of the corpses was appalling but I started digging with my ‎hands because it was important for me and my two little children that I locate my ‎husband’s grave.”‎
She unearthed a body with its face covered in blood but when she cleaned it off she saw ‎that it was not her husband. Other relatives visiting the graveyard discovered her ‎husband’s grave some days later. A member of a communist group, he had been arrested ‎in early 1985, tortured over several months and convicted after a summary trial at ‎which, as a result of his torture, he was barely conscious. He never learned what his ‎sentence was. His wife had been turned away from Evin Prison on a regular visiting day in ‎early August, and had then started her quest for information which led her to the ‎unmarked grave.‎
In October and November 1988 the authorities began to inform families of the execution ‎of their relatives. In a few cases prison officials informed relatives of the execution when ‎they went to the prison for a normal family visit. This led to protests by prisoners’ ‎relatives who gathered outside prisons, so other methods were devised.‎
The majority of relatives appear to have been informed by telephone that they should go ‎to an Islamic Revolutionary Committee office to receive news about their imprisoned ‎relatives. There they were informed of the execution and required to sign undertakings ‎that they would not hold a funeral or any other mourning ceremony. Family members ‎were not informed where their relatives were buried, and even if they managed to find ‎out they were not permitted to erect a gravestone.‎
An Iranian who left Iran in late 1988 told Amnesty International how his family had ‎learned of the execution of his brother, Hossein. In November 1988 the family received a ‎telephone call instructing the father to go to Evin Prison to receive information about ‎Hossein. Hossein’s father and wife went to the prison where they were told that Hossein ‎had been executed because he was not repentant and had not been improved by his ‎imprisonment. They were not informed where his body was, and were told that they ‎should not hold any funeral ceremony.‎
Hossein had been held in Gohardasht Prison in Karaj where he was serving a 15- year ‎sentence for activities in support of the PMOI: Hossein had been arrested in 1981. His ‎brother told Amnesty International that at that time Hossein had been involved in ‎political activities for the PMOI. collecting money and distributing leaflets and ‎newspapers. His brother is convinced that Hossein was not involved in violent activities.‎
The mother of a 39-year-old woman executed in Evin Prison wrote to Amnesty ‎International describing a similar experience. Her daughter had been arrested in 1982 ‎when she had been found in possession of leaflets produced by the PMOI. She had been ‎tried by an Islamic Revolutionary Court but never informed of the sentence passed on ‎her. For six years the mother had visited her daughter every two weeks. In early August ‎‎1988 her visits were stopped without explanation. In November 1988 she received a ‎telephone call telling her to go to the Islamic Revolutionary Committee office near ‎Behesht Zahra cemetery, where she was informed of her daughter’s execution. She was ‎instructed not to hold any mourning ceremony and was not informed where the body ‎was buried.‎
Relatives of prisoners executed in Orumieh Prison in Iranian Kurdistan have described to ‎Amnesty International a form they had to sign when they were summoned to the prison ‎to collect their relatives’ belongings. They were told where their relatives were buried, ‎but the authorities had made sure that the 40-day mourning period had elapsed before ‎telling the families about the executions. The form was an undertaking that they would ‎not hold any form of funeral ceremony or erect any memorial on the graves.‎
Amnesty International has received accounts of similar events in many different prisons ‎in all parts of Iran: in Rasht, Sanandaj, Mashhad, Isfahan and elsewhere. This suggests to ‎Amnesty International that the massacre of political prisoners was a premeditated and ‎coordinated policy which must have been authorized at the highest level of government.‎
The relatives of prisoners executed during this period have taken to gathering in Behesht ‎Zahra cemetery in Tehran on Fridays to commemorate their dead family members. The ‎mother of a 42-year-old man who had been arrested in 1983 and sentenced to 12 years’ ‎imprisonment before being executed in Karaj Prison, wrote to her daughter outside Iran ‎about one of these gatherings:‎
‎ “On Friday all the mothers along with family members got together and we went to the ‎graveyard. What a day of mourning, it was like Ashura! [A religious festival of particular ‎importance to Shi’a Muslims, commemorating the martyrdom of the Prophet ‎Muhammad’s grandson Hossein.] Mothers came with pictures of their sons; one has lost ‎five sons and daughters-in-law. Finally the Committee came and dispersed us.”‎

This gathering of bereaved relatives has reportedly become a regular weekly event in the ‎section of Behesht Zahra where political opponents to the government are buried. ‎According to reports from relatives of executed prisoners in Iran, the makeshift ‎monuments erected by the families, which consisted of a few stones and flowers, were ‎removed by the authorities prior to the visit to Tehran by the UN Special Representative ‎on Iran in January 1990. This was apparently an attempt to remove visible evidence of ‎the mass killings from the sight of any possible inspection of the cemetery by the Special ‎Representative.‎
Amnesty International has also collected accounts of the mass killings as they were ‎witnessed by political prisoners who were in prison at that time. A former prisoner in ‎Dastgerd Prison in Isfahan said that almost every day between August and December ‎‎1988 prison guards came to his section of the prison and read out a list of up to 10 ‎names. These people were then taken out of the cell, which generally housed between ‎‎150 and 300 people, and never seen again. The prisoners did not know what was ‎happening to those taken away, but the guards said that they were to be executed. Later, ‎prisoners were transferred to Dastgerd Prison from other prisons and news of similar ‎events in these prisons spread among the inmates in Dastgerd.‎
Prisoners in Gohardasht Prison in Karaj appear to have had a much clearer picture of the ‎events which were taking place. Former prisoners have described to Amnesty ‎International how a commission made up of representatives from the Islamic ‎Revolutionary Courts, the Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of ‎Intelligence began to subject all political prisoners to a form of retrial in July 1988.‎
These “retrials” bore little resemblance to judicial proceedings aimed at establishing the ‎guilt or innocence of a defendant with regard to a recognized criminal offence under the ‎law. Instead, they appear to have been formalized interrogation sessions designed to ‎discover the political views of the prisoner in order that prisoners who did not “repent” ‎should be executed the punishment of all those who continued to oppose the ‎government.‎
In Gohardasht Prison those detained for their alleged support for the PMOI were ‎reportedly the first to go before the commission. Other prisoners received information ‎about the “trials” from PMOI prisoners by way of messages tapped on walls in Morse ‎code from room to room inside the prison. According to one prisoner the first question ‎asked by the commission was: “What is your political affiliation?” Those who answered ‎‎“Mojahedin” were sent to their deaths. The “correct” answer was “Monafeqin” ‎‎(hypocrites). Those prisoners who survived this first phase of interrogation were then ‎subjected to a second series of questions. These included questions such as: - Are you ‎willing to give an interview on television to condemn and expose the Monafegin?‎
‎- Are you willing to fight with the forces of the Islamic Republic against the Monafegin?‎
‎- Are you willing to put a noose around the neck of an active member of the Monafegin?‎
‎- Are you willing to clear the minefields for the army of the Islamic Republic?‎
The majority of prisoners were reportedly unwilling to give the desired responses and ‎were consequently sent for execution. Some 200 out of 300 PMOI prisoners in Sections 3 ‎and 4 of Gohardasht Prison were killed following this type of interrogation.‎
The interrogations were reportedly conducted in such a way as to trick prisoners into ‎making statements revealing their opposition to the government. ...‎
According to another eye-witness account of this period in Gohardasht Prison, the ‎decisions about which prisoners were to be executed and which spared were arbitrary in ‎the extreme. Some prisoners who had been sentenced to death by the commission were ‎spared because prison guards sent prisoners whom they disliked to be executed in their ‎place. There was also a great deal of confusion as prisoners were transferred from ‎different prisons and from section to section within the prison. As a result of such ‎confusion prisoners were sometimes executed by mistake....‎
A similar pattern of purposeful mass killing of political opponents, beginning with the ‎PMOI but encompassing alleged supporters of other opposition groups, took place in ‎dozens of other prisons around the country in the second half of 1988. Among others, ‎Amnesty International has received reports of hundreds of executions of prisoners from ‎Kurdish opposition groups in Orumieh Prison, and of 50 being executed in Sanandaj. ...‎
Since February 1989 sporadic reports of executions of the government’s political ‎opponents in Iran have been received by Amnesty International. Some of these ‎executions have taken place in public. For example, in March 1989 Mohammad and ‎Saeid Khan Naroui were hanged from a crane in Abbas Ali Square in Gorgan. They had ‎been imprisoned since 1984 for “inciting the people to revolt”.‎
On 28 March 1990 the execution of two men described as “bandits” was announced by ‎the Islamic Republic News Agency. Abbas Raisi and Ahmad Jangi Razhi were found guilty ‎by the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Zahedan of “collaborating with bandits and counter ‎revolutionaries in the Baluchistan area.” (BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 30 March ‎‎1990)....‎
Other political prisoners are reported to have been executed ostensibly as common ‎criminals; they were among the hundreds of drug-traffickers and other convicted ‎criminals executed in public in 1989 and 1990. For example, it was announced that 79 ‎drug- traffickers were executed in different cities on 17 August 1989. Among them were ‎Mohammad Younessi, executed in Hamadan; Mohammad Gholi Ebrahimi, executed in ‎Rasht; Bijan Biglari, executed in Kermanshah (Bakhtaran); and Bahram Kazemi and ‎Massoud Sabet, executed in Shiraz. All these were reportedly political prisoners. Amnesty ‎International has received no response to its requests for information from the Iranian ‎authorities about the offences of which these prisoners were convicted.‎
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