Those responsible for the 1988 massacre in Iran must be brought to justice

By Alejo Vidal-Quadras
Between July and September 1988, opposition sources have said that 30,000 prisoners were executed under direct orders of then-supreme leader Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini. File Photo by Mohammad Kheirkhah/UPI
Between July and September 1988, opposition sources have said that 30,000 prisoners were executed under direct orders of then-supreme leader Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini. File Photo by Mohammad Kheirkhah/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 18 (UPI) -- "When I went in, the officials said, 'We have brought the last person.' [One of the officials] said, 'You know that we have dispatched all your friends to the other world, don't you?' I said, 'No, I don't.' He said, 'You are the last person... Now make your decision. What do you want to do?' I asked, 'What should I decide?' He said, 'Do you want to stay alive or do you want to go where your friends have gone?'"

This former political prisoner was asked this in September 1988 in the main prison of Semnan, Iran, where he served a lengthy sentence for supporting the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK), the main opposition movement. As he learned years later, the terror scenes lived in Semnan during the summer of 1988 were in fact part of a massive scale campaign to murder dissidents and political prisoners all through the country.


Amnesty International recently released the report "Blood Soaked Secrets - Why Iran's 1988 Prison Massacres are Ongoing Crimes Against Humanity," denouncing the scale of the massacre and the impunity enjoyed by those responsible.

The explosive report not only sheds light on the true size of the crimes committed during those months but also emphasizes the continuing brutality suffered by the families of the victims, harassed, and tormented for seeking truth and justice for their loved ones.

Between July and September 1988, opposition sources have said that 30,000 prisoners were executed under direct orders of then-supreme leader Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, who issued a fatwa ordering the execution of all prisoners who remained "steadfast" in their support for the PMOI. All throughout the country, political prisoners were taken to "death committees" that would ask them about their political and religious loyalties. Those who manifested continuing loyalty to the PMOI, or even those who the death committee would consider were not loyal enough to the Islamic Republic, were summarily executed and in most cases buried in anonymous mass graves. For months and sometimes years the families were kept in the dark, wondering if their loved ones were still alive, while the Iranian authorities systematically denied both inside and outside the country that the killings were taking place.


Since 1988, the Iranian regime not only has harassed and attacked the families of the victims searching for justice but has denied that the massacre took place. Even some officials in charge of the killings hold today important positions of power in the Islamic Republic. According to the Amnesty report, figures such as the current Minister of Justice Alireza Avaei, the previous (from 2013 to 2017) Minister of Justice Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, the current head of the Supreme Court for Judges Hossein Ali Nayyeri, and the candidate to the presidency of Iran in 2017 Ebrahim Raisi were all involved directly in this brutal campaign.

In 2016, after the disclosure of an audiotape recorded in August 1988 where the then-number 2 of the regime, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, acknowledges and denounces the massacre as "the greatest atrocity in the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us," Mohammadi boasted about his role saying, "We are proud to have carried out God's commandment" concerning the PMOI and openly declared that he had not "lost any sleep all these years" over the killings.

In this shocking report, Amnesty clearly states: "Certain acts, including extrajudicial execution and enforced disappearance, when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population pursuant to a state or organizational policy, amount to crimes against humanity" and lists persecution, murder, extermination, enforced disappearance and torture as crimes against humanity committed by the Iranian regime.


The report also argues that the absolute impunity enjoyed by the criminals in all levels of power makes this a case of ongoing crimes against humanity and insists, as we have repeatedly asked in the International Committee In Search of Justice, that it is the obligation of the international community to bring justice to the victims.

Amnesty International closes its report recommending truth, justice and reparation. After more than 30 years, it is long overdue. As we very well know that the Islamic Republic's institutions won't ever guarantee a fair and thorough investigation, we ask international bodies such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court to ensure independent criminal investigations. The European Union should not close its eyes to the atrocities going on in Iran under the excuse of the nuclear deal or business. Sadly, the EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini, is fully engaged in building a close relationship with the ruling theocracy instead of siding with the people of Iran who began an uprising in December 2017.

We, in Europe, know that bringing justice to the victims of a crime against humanity not only means justice for those affected but a lesson of history for all to remember. We bring justice not only to close a case but also to remind us and the next generations that crimes against humanity cannot be under any circumstances left unpunished, so that they never ever could happen again.


Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a Spanish professor of atomic and nuclear physics, is president of the Brussels-based International Committee in Search of Justice. He served as vice president of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014.

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