1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran

Lack of Investigation into 1988 Massacre is an ‘Abject Failure’ and Emboldened Mullahs to Commit Further Human Rights Abuses

1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran

More than 30,000 political prisoners, mainly MEK activists were slain during the summer of 1988, a crime against humanity that has yet to be accounted for.

On Wednesday, December 26th, International Policy Digest published a piece from Reza Shafiee, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). In the piece, Shafiee urges the UN and the international community to investigate the atrocities committed by the Iranian regime in the summer of 1988.

Shaifee uses a recent 200-page Amnesty International report on the massacre of 1988 as his point of departure. In the summer of 1988, the Iranian regime slaughtered over 30,000 members of the political opposition in regime custody, the vast majority were members of the People’s Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (MEK).

“Khomeini hastily put together a committee to exterminate the prisoners”, Shaifee wrote. To give the executions religious legitimacy, Khomeini issued a fatwa which gave the green light to “one of the most heinous crimes against humanity the world had seen in the 20th century”.

Reza Shafiee argues that it was the lack of a formal investigation into these crimes that emboldened the mullahs and created the regime of today that frequently runs roughshod over the basic human rights of Iran’s citizens.

“Impunity for crimes in those days emboldened the regime over the years to the extent that it is leveling the graves of the same victims all over Iran”, he writes.

There was an early whistle-blower, Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, who publicly objected to the massacre. For his objections, he was placed under house arrest by the Iranian regime. In 2016, his son leaked an audiotape in which Montazeri can clearly be heard discussing the massacre with Khomeini’s “Death Commission” in 1988.

In the tape, Montazeri tells warns them of the severity of the crimes they are committing. He said, “the greatest crime committed during the reign of the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed by you. Your names will in the future be etched in the annals of history as criminals”.

Shafiee goes on to echo the Amnesty International report’s recommendations that the perpetrators for the 1988 massacre be identified and hauled in front of the international criminal court for crimes against humanity.

The president-elect of the Iranian opposition, Maryam Rajavi, has also echoed these calls. On the eve of the 28th anniversary of the massacre, she led the Iranian opposition in a campaign called the “Movement for Justice”. The campaign’s goal was to initiate a UN Security Council investigation into the massacre and hold the mullahs responsible to account.


Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the 1988 massacre, is that many responsible for the atrocities have been rewarded by the Iranian regime and now hold positions of power. Ebrahim Raisi was part of the Death Commission in 1988. He now runs Astan Quds Razavi, one of the wealthiest charities in Iran and is a close confidant of the current Supreme Leader.

Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi was also part of the Death Commission. He went on to hold the position of Justice Minister in President Hassan Rouhani’s first cabinet. Pour-Mohammadi has boasted of his role in the massacre, even stating that he was proud “to carry out God’s will”.

Pour-Mohammadi’s successor, Alireza Avaie was also a member of the Death Commission.

Phillip Luther, Amnesty International’s Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, called the lack of investigation into the 1988 massacre “an abject failure” which has had “catastrophic consequences not only on survivors and victim’s families but also on the rule of law and respect for human rights in the country”.

Staff Writer





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