With Talk of “Moderate” President Rouhani, How Far Has Iran Really Come From The Horrific Acts of the 1988 Massacre?
August 25, 2016
Descriptions of the 1988 massacre of Iranian political prisoners are no less than horrific. Prisoners as young as 13, serving punishments for crimes of conscience, ordered to execution by a self-described “death committee,” were carted onto forklifts by the hundreds before being unceremoniously hung off of cranes in groups by the hour. This disturbing scene went on for months until no less than 30,000 Iranian political prisoners were executed and buried in unmarked mass graves, often unbeknownst to their families.
The mastermind behind this disturbing massacre was deceased supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomenei. Despite the fact that there was never a publicly stated admission of the executions, Khomenei was known to have organized the massacre as a symbol of right wing rule at a time when a new ruler, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri,, was being decided for the republic. During this time, Iran was already weakened by the 8-year war with Iraq and was dealing with a progressive movement from the Mujahideen-e-Khalq organization, a political group that stood for the overthrow of the Iranian government and that was actively suppressed by the Khomenei regime. After Khomenei issued a fatwa pushing for the executions, Prisoners were asked if they were loyal to the Mujahideen-e Khalq, or MEK , and those who responded that they were would be executed without trial. The executions were used as a way of cleansing the country of the entire ideology, to threaten the people of Iran against joining the MEK and other opposition groups, and solidify the power of the regime. The massacres were carried out swiftly and consistently across the country throughout the year and resulted in thousands of victims.
Official details of the massacre have remained foggy until recently, when an audio file surfaced online of a conversation between Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the cleric who was the heir apparent for Khomenei at the time, and other senior judicial figures such as Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi. In this audio, we hear irrefutable proof that not only did these executions occur, but that they were premeditate and approved by Khomenei and his appointed “death committees” consisting of “three-member panels of an Islamic judge, a representative of the Ministry of Intelligence, and a state prosecutor.”
The audio also reveals that Montazeri openly and forcefully condemned the massacre, calling it “the biggest crime in the Islamic Republic.” Despite his opposition MEK , Montazeri recognized that the executions were unjust, and he expressed his crisis of conscience regarding the massacre, attesting that he was “not able to sleep” at night because of it. The audiotapes also revealed that the senior officials were accomplices in the planning and execution of the massacre and that it was an organized and intentional act of the state of Iran.
Ayatollah Montazeri was later placed on house arrest until his death in December 2009. The revealed audio file supports the theory that he was removed from power and mitigated to the status of prisoner because of his open condemnation of the massacre. This treatment of Montazeri shows that the supreme leader was intent on carrying out the executions and would punish those who challenged him. After Montazeri spoke out regarding the massacre, he was removed as the heir apparent and replaced by Al Khamenei, the current supreme leader.
This audio file is as relevant now as it was in 1988. Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, a senior official was a part of the death committees, and who is now the Minister of the Interior under Hassan Rohani, the supposedly moderate current Iranian president. With those such as Pour-Mohammadi directly involved in the present Iranian regime, many critics claim that the link from today’s regime to the regime of 1988 explains how executions in Iran have increased as of late, and the regime remains strict despite its progressive image.
According to news sources, executions in Iran “have increased in each of the first three years of Rouhani’s tenure, reaching a total of 966 last year, the highest total in a decade.” In addition, Hazratpour, a member of Iran’s parliamentary legal and judicial committee, recently revealed that there are presently, 4500 death row prisoners whose cases remain undecided. (State-run media, August 21, 2016) In reference to these statistics, Samienejad states that, “The high rate of executions in Iran today stems from the kind of mentality behind that massacre.”
Fear of another, similar massacre also hangs over the heads of Iranian prisoners. According to the information received by the Iranian opposition, prison authorities have adopted new repressive measures in recent days in Gohardasht Prison. In addition to an unprecedented increase in the number of sentry guards, groups of Revolutionary Guards have been stationed in various parts of the prison and even on the rooftops. Doors of all wards are closed throughout the day and all the windows and openings in the ward have been covered by steel plates from both sides. Prisoners are prevented from taking fresh-air breaks.
In the course of the 1988 massacre, a large number of prisoners were hanged in Gohardasht Prison where similar repressive measures were adopted at the time.
If Rouhani is as moderate as he claims, it is difficult to understand why the new regime’s approach to political prisoners so closely resembles the oppressive approach of the late 1980’s. Critics of Rouhani suggest that despite his progressive image, he has allowed for an increase in executions and the appointing of officials such as Pour-Mohammadi, who has yet to be held accountable for the executions of 1988.