EDITORIAL: 1988 Massacre Memory Haunts Iran’s Regime, UN Action Needed


After 31 years, Iran’s 1988 massacre that sent over 30,000 political prisoners to the gallows over a few months based on a fatwa by Khomeini, has again become a live issue in Iranian society.

Khomeini’s decree called for the execution of all political prisoners affiliated to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, Mujahedin-e Khalq or MEK) who remained loyal to the organization. ‘Death Commissions’ were formed across Iran sending political prisoners who refused to abandon their beliefs to execution. Political prisoners affiliated to other groups were executed in a second wave about a month later. The victims were buried secretly in mass graves.

Relatives of victims testified in a live satellite television program last week about the event and revealed new secrets on how families had been, and continue to be, harassed by the regime to cover the massacre. They feel equally victimized by the regime for over three decades, and are no longer able to keep silent.

Senior officials of the regime find themselves obliged to address, and to try to defend one of the most notorious crimes against humanity of our times.

The mullahs wanted to pretend, with little success, that the affair was one of history. But, crimes against humanity never become history. Those responsible must be brought to justice, even if they are no longer in office.

But this is not the case in Iran.

Mass murderers are well in office and are running the regime’s Judiciary and other forces.

Iran’s Judiciary Chief “reportedly had served on a committee that had ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988,” according to a 2017 report to the UN General Assembly by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.

An investigation in 2017 by London-based NGO, Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI), uncovered the identities of 87 Death Commission members. Many still hold senior positions in the judiciary or government. They include:

Judiciary Chief: Ebrahim Raisi was in 1988 Tehran’s Deputy Prosecutor and member of the Tehran Death Commission. He became Judiciary Chief in March 2019.
Justice Minister: Alireza Avaei was Dezful’s Prosecutor and member of the Death Commission. He is now Hassan Rouhani’s Justice Minister.
Deputy Speaker of Parliament: Abdolreza Mesri was a member of the Kermanshah Death Commission. He became Deputy Majlis Speaker in May 2019.
Advisor to the Judiciary Chief: Mostafa Pourmohammadi was a member of the Tehran Death Commission. Since 2018, he is Advisor to the Judiciary Chief.
Vice President of the Supreme Court: Hossein-Ali Nayyeri headed the Tehran Death Commission. He is currently Head of the Supreme Disciplinary Court for Judges and Vice President of the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court Justice: Ali Razini sat on the Tehran Death Commission. He is now Head of the 41st Branch of the Supreme Court.
The mullahs know no way other than threats and repression. On 25 July 2019, in an interview with the state-run Mosalas magazine, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi defended the 1988 massacre and said newly-caught PMOI activists would face the capital punishment.

Ali Razini told the state-run Jamaran website on 29 July 2019 that the killings were carried out speedily on Khomeini’s order to avoid “being held up by red tape”. He recently confessed on state TV to have ordered arbitrary field executions of opposition members in western Iran in 1988.

The previous Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran told the General Assembly: “Over the years, a high number of reports have been issued about the 1988 massacres. If the number of persons who disappeared and were executed can be disputed, overwhelming evidence shows that thousands of persons were summarily killed.”

Until the full truth of the 1988 massacre is unveiled and the perpetrators are held to account, there will be no incentive for Iran’s regime to halt human rights abuses.

As the Human Rights Council gears up for its September session, Diplomatic Missions in Geneva should press the Council to set up a commission of inquiry into the 1988 massacre.

Families of the victims in Iran expect UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, Fabian Salvioli, to investigate Iran’s 1988 massacre as part of their mandates. And they urge High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to support the launch of an independent fact-finding mission into that crime against humanity.

The international community should act urgently to end the regime’s culture of impunity.

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