Iran: 1988 Massacre of MEK Political Prisoners
The 1988 Massacre – A Brief Background:
In the summer of 1988, the Iranian regime committed a heinous crime and massacred 30,000 political prisoners, the majority of which were members or supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK).
The executions took place based on a fatwa, by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Three-member commissions, known as ‘Death Commissions’, were formed across Iran sending political prisoners who refused to abandon their beliefs to execution. The victims were buried in secret mass graves.
The perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity. Since 2016, the names of nearly 100 ‘Death Commission’ members have been revealed. Many still hold senior positions in the Iranian judiciary or government, including the current Justice Minister of Iran.
Khomeini’S Criminal Fatwa
Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa in July 1988 ordering the execution of imprisoned opponents, including those who had already been tried and were serving their prison terms. This was the beginning of what turned out to be the biggest massacre of political prisoners since World War II.
Khomeini’s decree called for the execution of all political prisoners affiliated with the main opposition group, the MEK, who remained loyal to the organization. Following the decree, some 30,000 political prisoners, mainly members, and supporters of the MEK were extra-judicially executed within months.
The decree reads: “As the treacherous Monafeqin [MEK] do not believe in Islam and what they say is out of deception and hypocrisy, and as their leaders have confessed that they have become renegades, and as they are waging war on God, and…. It is decreed that those who are in prison throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin [MEK] are waging war on God and are condemned to execution.”
The decree was so ruthless, even by the standards of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that the Chief Justice sought clarification with the following questions:
- Does the decree apply to those who have been in prison, who have already been tried and sentenced to death, but have not changed their stance and the verdict has not yet been carried out, or are those who have not yet been tried also condemned to death?
- Those Monafeqin [MEK] prisoners who have received limited jail terms, and who have already served part of their terms, but continue to hold fast to their stance in support of the Monafeqin [MEK], are they also condemned to death?
- In reviewing the status of the Monafeqin [MEK] prisoners, is it necessary to refer the cases of Monafeqin [MEK] prisoners in counties that have an independent judicial organ to the provincial center, or can the county’s judicial authorities act autonomously?
Khomeini’s response was even more ruthless: “In all the above cases, if the person at any stage or at any time maintains his [or her] support for the Monafeqin [MEK], the sentence is execution. Annihilate the enemies of Islam immediately. As regards the cases, use whichever criterion that speeds up the implementation of the verdict.”
Formation of Three-Member Death Commission
Khomeini ordered the formation of three-member panels, known as ‘Death Commissions’, including a religious judge, prosecutor, and representative from the Ministry of Intelligence. They implemented his order of execution throughout the country. Thus, a systematic murder machine began operating at unprecedented speed.
— People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) (@Mojahedineng) September 7, 2016
It took only a few minutes for the ‘Death Commissions’ to determine each case brought before them. They would call the prisoners one by one and ask them if they still supported the MEK; if the answer was yes, they would be executed. Even if the prisoners avoided expressing support for the MEK they had to pass other tests, such as agreeing to cooperate with the regime against other prisoners who remained loyal to the MEK. If they did not agree they would receive an execution sentence. Even MEK supporters who had been previously jailed and freed were rearrested without charge and executed.
The corpses were not handed over to their families and many families did not know what happened to their loved ones. The regime feared protests when families were eventually informed. To prevent this, the executed prisoners were buried in various unknown mass graves, some of which have been discovered over the years.
1988 Massacre – Crime Against Humanity
Hossein-Ali Montazeri was Khomeini’s designated successor at the time of the massacre in 1988. However, he wrote a series of letters to Khomeini opposing the executions. He told Khomeini that the MEK was “an idea” and “a logic” which would be strengthened by these killings. “If you insist on your decree … spare the women with children.” Khomeini not only ignored his recommendations but became extremely enraged and ousted Montazeri, who subsequently was put under house arrest until his death in 2009.
The regime’s crime against humanity is now backfiring against itself and sowing the seeds of its own collapse. The…
On 9 August 2016, twenty-eight years later, an audio recording of Montazeri’s meeting on 15 August 1988, with top officials responsible for the massacre, was published online by his son Ahmad Montazeri. In the audio file, Montazeri could be heard addressing the “Death Commission” of Tehran, consisting of four people: Mostafa Pourmohammadi, representative of the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) in the Commission; Hossein Ali Nayyeri, the sharia judge; Morteza Eshraghi, the public prosecutor; and Ebrahim Ra’isi (currently head of regime’s Judiciary), the deputy prosecutor, who collectively decided on the executions in the Iranian capital.
Montazeri told the Death Commission: “The greatest crime in the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed by you.”
Justice For The Victims
Since 2016, there has been growing demand by the victims’ families and the Iranian people for transparency and prosecution of those involved in the 1988 massacre. This has been a major development both from a human rights perspective and from a political perspective. After 29 years, the massacre remains a benchmark for the Iranian people to judge different factions of the ruling system. Many describe the issue of the massacre as the collective conscience of the Iranian people, which cannot be set aside until the perpetrators are brought to justice.
On July 2019, addressing a conference held at Ashraf 3, during last year’s Free Iran gatherings, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), while emphasizing on the need to end three decades of impunity of regime’s leader, said:
“How could the world tolerate sitting in the United Nations side by side with those directly involved in the massacre of tens of thousands of prisoners? How could they negotiate and do commerce with them? This is a travesty for human rights. This is providing space for extremism and fundamentalism. This is trampling justice and democracy, not only in Iran but throughout the Middle East and all around the world. The massacre of political prisoners in Iran has been the worst massacre of prisoners since the Second World War.”
“The time has come for the world to recognize the right of the people of Iran to resistance and struggle to overthrow the mullahs’ religious fascism.” She added.
Mrs. Rajavi urged the international community, the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council, and its member states, as well as other relevant United Nation agencies, the European Union, and all advocates of human rights and justice, to rise up and to end the impunity of those responsible for the 1988 massacre.