More than 30,000 political prisoners were executed in the 1988 massacre - a far larger number than previously suspected. Secret documents smuggled out of Iran reveal that, because of the large numbers of necks to be broken, prisoners were loaded onto forklift trucks in groups of six and hanged from cranes in half-hourly intervals.
Gruesome details are contained in the memoirs of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, The Memoirs of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, one of the founders of the Islamic regime. He was once considered Khomeini's anointed successor, but was deposed for his outspokenness, and is now under house arrest in the holy city of Qom.
Published privately last month after attempts by the regime to suppress it, the revelations have prompted demands from Iranian exiles for those involved to be tried for crimes against humanity. The most damning of the letters and documents published in the book is Khomeini's fatwa decree calling for all Mojahedin (as opponents of the Iranian regime are known) to be killed.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s Deadly Fatwa
Issued shortly after the end of the Iran-Iraq war in July 1988 and an incursion into western Iran by the Iranian resistance, the fatwa reads: "It is decreed that those who are in prisons throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin (Mojahedin) are waging war on God and are condemned to execution."
It goes on to entrust the decision to "death committees" - three-member panels consisting of an Islamic judge, a representative of the Ministry of Intelligence, and a state prosecutor. Prisoners were to be asked if they had changed loyalties and, if not, were to be executed.
Montazeri, who states that 3,800 people had been killed by the end of the first fortnight of executions, includes his own correspondence with Khomeini, saying that the killings would be seen as "a vendetta" and would spark opposition to the regime. He wrote: "The execution of several thousand prisoners in a few days will not have positive repercussions and will not be mistake-free."
The massacres, which came just before the Lockerbie bombing, were seen as a sop to the hardliners at a time when Khomeini was already in failing health and the battle for succession had begun between fundamentalists and moderates. He died the following year.
According to testimony from prison officials - including Kamal Afkhami Ardekani, who formerly worked at Evin prison - recently given to United Nations human rights rapporteurs: "They would line up prisoners in a 14-by-five-metre hall in the central office building and then ask simply one question, 'What is your political affiliation?' Those who said the Mojahedin would be hanged from cranes in position in the car park behind the building."
He went on to describe how, every half an hour from 7.30am to 5pm, 33 people were lifted on three forklift trucks to six cranes, each of which had five or six ropes. He said: "The process went on and on without interruption." In two weeks, 8,000 people were hanged. Similar carnage took place across the country.
Many of those in the ruling council at the time of the 1988 massacre are still in power, including President Mohammed Khatami, who was the Director of Ideological and Cultural Affairs.
"The massacre may have happened 12 years ago, but the relevance is that these atrocities are still happening", said Mohammad Mohaddessin, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Iranian National Council of Resistance (NCRI), the main opposition group, who was in London last week to present evidence to MPs.
The NCRI has prepared files on 21 senior members of the regime whom it alleges were "principal protagonists of the massacre", including Mr Khatami and Ayatollah Ali Khameini, Iran's "Supreme Leader". Mr Mohaddessin will travel to New York to present the files to the UN and call for a tribunal to try them for crimes against humanity.
Mr Mohaddessin said human rights abuses were continuing in Iran despite the election of Mr Khatami, who "presents himself as a reformist".
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IN THE summer of 1988, when its revolution was nearly a decade old and the disastrous war with Iraq was winding down, the Iranian government killed around 50,000 political prisoners. The event is not particularly well known, partly because Iran went to considerable effort to make sure this was so, and partly because there was so much going on elsewhere at the time.
Soviet Union began pulling out of Afghanistan in May and a year later the Berlin Wall came down. A tribunal sitting in London until June 22nd is attempting to fill in the gaps, hearing testimony from survivors of the purge and from the relatives of those who went missing.
The killing was ordered by a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who became Supreme Leader of Iran after the revolution. It was relentless and efficient. Prisoners, including women and teenagers, were loaded onto forklift trucks and hanged from cranes and beams in groups of five or six at half-hourly intervals all day long. Others were killed by firing squad. Those not executed were subjected to torture.
The tribunal in London, which has no legal standing, will hear from 60 witnesses in total. They have come from the many countries where they live in exile and some asked not to be identified because they fear for the safety of relatives still in Iran. They describe prisons in which torture was routinely used to extract information, gather more names of people to arrest, and also to make prisoners repent and publicly repudiate their political and religious affiliations and beliefs.
One witness said that one of his cellmates, a boy of 16, was raped by guards every night.
Siavash Daneshvar, who was arrested in 1982 for being a member of Kurdistan's Kumele party, described rooms underneath the wards at Evin prison from which could be heard the cries of prisoners being tortured at all hours. “They also had ‘coffins' where prisoners stayed in for two, three, five or more months,” he said.
These testimonies, translated simultaneously into English, corroborated what was already known of the executions. In 2001 Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, former designated successor to Khomeini, published a memoir which contains details of the 1988 massacre, including a copy of Khomeini's fatwa calling for the execution of all Mojahedins as “fighters against God” and all leftists as “apostates from Islam.”
“There is a coherence amongst all the testimonies. They confirm the same story and match what was already known,” said Eric David, professor of public international law at Brussels University.
Iran had killed a large number of political prisoners throughout the 1980s, so why the sudden increase in 1988? The witnesses' testimonies suggest that the regime was worried about the large number of unrepentant political prisoners due to be released after the end of the war with Iraq, and so decided to purge its prisons of troublesome elements once and for all.
Witnesses described how, in the months preceding the massacre, they were questioned and separated according to their political and religious beliefs, and moved across various prisons. Then they were called one-by-one in front of a makeshift court made up of an Islamic judge, a state prosecutor and a representative of the Ministry of Intelligence.
They were asked: “Are you a Muslim”, “Do you pray?”, “What is your political affiliation?” and “Do you recant your beliefs and political activities?” If their answers didn't satisfy the court they were sent for execution. Many must have had no idea why they were sent to the gallows. A witness told the commission that one of the clerics was holding his son on his lap. The little boy said: “Dear Papa, please also execute this one.”
Families were informed of the deaths months after they took place and were never told where their bodies were buried. “Four months after my brother's death, my father was called to Evin prison and told that his son had been an apostate and there was no place in this world for him and no place in the other world either,” said Lawdan Bazargan.
The tribunal, which has enthusiastic backing from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has no power to do anything bar publicising the testimony of witnesses. A second tribunal will then convene in The Hague at the end of October. Neither gathering is likely to concern the people who arranged the killings too much. But at least they remedy what the relatives of victims mind about most—the forgetting of what happened one summer almost a quarter of a century ago.
(Ahmad Mossavi, former political prisoner and survivor of the mass executions of the early 80s and 1988 massacre. He has written his own memories in the book entitled “Good Night Comrades”. He spent ten years(1981-1991) in various prisons of the Islamic Republic of Iran.)
On the 25th anniversary, it is time for those responsible to be held to account. The massacre of political prisoners by the Iranian regime, which took place in the summer of 1988 has never been acknowledged by Tehran and remains one of the darkest stains in recent history, although it is relatively unknown in the West.
The executions began in late July and continued for several months. As many as 30,000 political prisoners or more, the overwhelming majority of them activists of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK) were slaughtered.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a decree in July 1988: “Whoever at any stage continues to belong to the PMOI must be executed. Annihilate the enemies of Islam immediately!” He went on to add: “… Those who are in prisons throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for PMOI are waging war on God and are condemned to execution…It is naive to show mercy to those who wage war on God.”
The executions soon began and every day hundreds of political prisoners were hanged and their corpses were buried hurriedly in unmarked mass graves in all of Iran’s major cities, in particular in Khavaran cemetery in south Tehran.
Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, a cleric who had for ten years been the designated successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, strongly protested against the mass executions and called for a moratorium, but Khomeini insisted that there should be no mercy shown and ordered that all prisoners, including even teenagers and pregnant women, be put to death immediately.
In 2008, on the 20th anniversary of this massacre, Amnesty International renewed its call for those responsible for the “prison massacre” to be held accountable, stating “there should be no impunity for such gross human rights violations, regardless of when they were committed.”
The Iranian regime continues to deny the 1988 elimination of political prisoners. None of the perpetrators have yet been brought to justice and none of the regime’s senior officials, including the Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, have been held accountable.
The new so-called “moderate” President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, was Deputy Commander-in-chief of the regime’s armed forces at the time of the massacres and, since 1982, was a member of regime’s Supreme Defence Council, so was fully aware of the crime and in full conformity with it.
In another report in 2009, Amnesty International called on “the Iranian authorities to immediately stop the destruction of hundreds of individual and mass, unmarked graves in Khavaran, south Tehran, to ensure that the site is preserved and to initiate a forensic investigation at the site as part of a long-overdue, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into mass executions which began in 1988, often referred to in Iran as the “prison massacres”.
The organization fears that these actions of the Iranian authorities are aimed at destroying evidence of human rights violations and depriving the families of the victims of the 1988 killings of their right to truth, justice and reparation.”
|How can Islam be a religion, for the Imams frequently issue so-called Fatwas|
letting their followers kill countless numbers of people
all over the world last 1,300 years.
Islam Is A Perversion Of Christian Doctrine: St. Aquinas