Historical leaders of 120 years of Iranian struggle for freedom
Iranians refer to the early part of the 20th century as the “Age of Awaking” from the bondage of the absolute monarchy under the Qajar Kings. The Constitutional Revolution of 1906 marked the culmination of a broad movement of a quarter-century by the people of Iran to break free from monarchic despotism and propelled the nation’s popular movement for a modern democratic state.
Gradually, freedom fighters were suppressed and dictatorship returned and finally a British-backed coup installed an illiterate officer, Reza Pahlavi, to the throne in 1921. The wartime Allies forced Reza Shah to abdicate due to his Nazi sympathies in 1941. His son, Mohammad Reza assumed the reins of power. The Iranian people’s movement for democracy, forced the new Monarch into retreat, enabling Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq to become the Prime Minister in 1951. The popular Prime Minister nationalized Iran’s oil industry, which was until then controlled by the Anglo-Iranian Petroleum Company. The move drew the ire of the British, who along with the United States and the backing of the Royal Court and the reactionary clerics, engineered the August 1953 coup that toppled Mossadeq’s government.
The increasingly brutal dictatorship of the Shah, which had suppressed all forms of peaceful and reformist political opposition, led to the founding in 1965 of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK) by three Muslim university graduates, Mohammad Hanifnejad, a 26-year-old agricultural engineer, Saeed Mohsen, a civil engineer, and Ali-Asghar Badizadegan, an assistant professor in chemical engineering.
The MEK challenged both the Shah’s regime and the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam espoused by the clerical establishment, which by and large supported the status quo.
The founders’ advocacy of a tolerant and democratic Islam had tremendous appeal not only among Iranian intellectuals but also among the middle class and the bazaar, the pillar of Iran’s economy. Considering itself as the disciple of Dr. Mossadeq, the MEK founders’ active resistance to the Shah, inspired the Iranian people to join the anti-monarchic movement.
Despite the execution of its founders by the Shah’s secret police, SAVAK in 1972 and the clerical regime’s brutal onslaught on the MEK, resulting in the murder of 120,000 of its members and sympathizers, the organization has emerged as the largest and best-organized opposition movement. On September 6, 2019, it celebrated the start of its 55th year at an elaborate event at the organization’s new home in Albania, Ashraf 3.
“In the past half-century, throughout trials and tribulations, you supported your organization and movement. The 54th anniversary of this organization is the result of your toil and is your victory. On behalf the members and supporters of MEK, I would like to salute our great founders Mohammad Hanifnejad, Saeed Mohsen and Ali Asghar Badizadegan. By sacrificing their lives, they made a breakthrough and started a new era in the history of Iran. And we salute our (MEK’s historical leader) Massoud Rajavi and (NCRI’s President-elect) Maryam Rajavi who have set an example of sacrifice and honesty in the history of struggles for freedom.”
Now, after so many years and so much hardship and suffering, the struggle of Iranian people has reached a turning point. Freedom and democracy are within reach as never before.
MEK’s Secretary-General underscored that the mortal conditions with which the regime is faced
“has a much deeper root than international sanctions and major loss of revenues. Owing especially to the impact of the protest movement and the organized resistance, the mullahs have reached a point where they lack the capacity to reproduce the source of their survival. Western government’s appeasement policy, fake reformers, and other parties assisting the regime have run out of steam. While facing the prospects of being overthrown, the velayat-e faqih regime, unlike previous periods, has no savior and is rapidly moving towards its demise.”
“At this juncture, the active resistance of the MEK, the Resistance Units and Councils as well as this movement’s unrelenting political campaign internationally aimed at defeating the conspiracies of the mullahs and their advocates and restoring the rights of the Iranian people and Resistance, has brightened the prospects of the regime’s overthrow,” Ms. Merrikhi added.
In the summer of 1988, the Iranian regime summarily and extra-judicially executed tens of thousands of political prisoners across Iran. The massacre was carried out based on a fatwa by the regime’s then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini.
In the summer of 1988, 30000 political prisoners were massacred in Iran. The massacre was carried out based on a fatwa by the regime’s then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini
“Whoever at any stage continues to belong to the Monafeqin (the regime’s derogatory term to describe the PMOI/MEK) 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 the MEK/PMOI are waging war on God and are condemned to execution… It is naive to show mercy to those who wage war on God.”
More than 30,000 political prisoners were massacred in a matter of a few months. The vast majority of the victims were activists of the opposition PMOI/MEK.
Many members of the death committees, which ordered the mass killings in different cities, are now senior Iranian regime officials, including the Judiciary Head Ebrahim Raisi and regime Justice Minister Ali Reza Avaei.
Many members of the death committees, which ordered the mass killings in different cities, are now senior Iranian regime officials
The majority of those executed were either serving prison sentences for their political activities or had already completed their sentences but had not been released… While the Iranian regime has brazenly boasted about this massacre, it has not provided any information as to how many prisoners were killed or where the victims are buried.
In an article about the massacre, the British Daily, The Telegraph, wrote:
“CHILDREN as young as 13 were hanged from cranes, six at a time, in a barbaric two-month purge of Iran’s prisons on the direct orders of Ayatollah Khomeini, according to a new book by his former deputy.
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.”
Amnesty International’s statement reads:
“Thousands of the victims’ deaths remain unregistered and, across the country, there are thousands of missing bodies buried in unidentified mass graves. For more than 30 years, the Iranian authorities have failed to officially acknowledge the existence of these mass graves and concealed their locations causing immeasurable suffering to families who are still seeking answers about their missing loved ones.”
Philip Luther, the Middle East, and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International added:
“The families of those secretly killed in the 1988 prison massacres are still living through a nightmare. They and many others in Iran are haunted by the thousands of missing bodies, which have cast a specter over the country’s justice system to this day,”
said Philip Luther.
“UN member states must use every opportunity, including the upcoming review of Iran’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council in November, to press the Iranian government to identify mass graves and reveal the fate and whereabouts of all victims of these tragic events.”
“The massacre in 1988 was the horrifying scene of such historic confrontation. But it was not the end. Despite its excruciating pain and agony, it was the beginning of a new confrontation which still continues and will ultimately write the fate of the Iranian nation with the word, freedom.
From this vantage point, one can see that the 1988 massacre is tied to Iran’s freedom and future. It is entwined with the stoned rights of human beings in Iran, with the resistance for freedom and equality, with the betrayal of foreign proponents of appeasement, with the disgraceful cowardice of those who surrendered to the regime, and of course, it is tied to the regime’s overthrow.”
Protest Rally, Place des Nations, Geneva,26/02/2019 – Hundreds of Iranian exiles supporters of the Peoples Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK), carried Iranian flags and banners opposed to the Iranian regime in a rally on Tuesday February, 26,2019 in front of the UN Headquarters in Geneva to protest grave violations of human rights in Iran, particularly the 1988 massacre of more than 30,000 political prisoners (mainly MEK members).
The final day of the Free Iran Conference was dedicated to seeking justice for the 30,000 victims of the 1988 Massacre and their families. A number of dignitaries gave speeches on Monday, but the most memorable words came from survivors of the massacre. Their words are summarized below.
“I spent six years in prison. The Revolutionary Guards arrested me while I was pregnant. I was taken to Evin Prison and the torture chambers. I was transferred to Ward 209. In the cell, I saw four torturers torture my husband in front of me. They also tortured me in front of him,” said Ms. Jokar.
“A few days later, they executed my husband with 75 others. The torturer said his intention was for him to never see his child. When I gave birth to my child, they took me to a hospital and quickly brought me back to prison even though I was very ill. I personally knew 50 MEK pregnant women who were executed, including Masumeh, the sister of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi,” she said.
“In prison, they would not give milk and food for the kids, and my cellmates would provide their sugar rations to me to give something to my baby. There was no doctor or medication for the children. In the public ward, there were only 15 minutes of warm water every other day, which we had to use to give the children a bath. Many of these children had lost their parents,” Ms. Jokar continued.
“The torturers even interrogated the children. They strapped a six-year-old girl to a chair in a dark room and said they would leave her there if she did not reveal the names of her mother’s friends,” she said.
“I managed to escape prison in 1986. All of those ladies who shared the cell with me were executed in the 1988 massacre,” Ms. Jokar said.
“The roots of our hopes and faith in our leaders helped us overcome the dark times in prison and to fight for freedom,” she concluded. Ms. Jokar remained stoic throughout her testimony but many in the room were visibly moved by her words.
“I was a nurse in Tehran. In 1981, I was arrested and imprisoned in Evin Prison and Gohardasht Prison along with many of my colleagues. We were charged with helping the people who were injured by the IRGC,” said Ms. Haj-Hassan.
“In prison, we were subjected to severe tortures. Insomnia, packed cells, sleeping in coffins were what we had to endure,” she said.
“I was in a cage for seven months. These were small partitions where you could only squat. You couldn’t move, you couldn’t even cough or sneeze. If we moved, we were tortured. Our eyes were blindfolded. My eyesight has been degraded and my back was injured. I was operated on five times and yet I still have not recovered,” Ms. Haj-Hassan continued.
“When we came out of the cages, our friends didn’t recognize us. Inside the cage, we had to be prepared for any torture at any moment. The torturers used any excuse to torture us,” she emphasized.
“The torturer told us that we would die here. We were only given three minutes per day to go to the bathroom. We couldn’t even brush our teeth. The food they gave us was scarce and very dirty. At night, when we were allowed to sleep, they would turn on loudspeakers and play the regime’s mourning songs,” she added.
“The torturers sought to break our will and force us to turn our backs on our struggle. I decided that I would not tell the enemy the name of the Mojahed. My friend Shekar was arrested with me, and she was executed in 1988 after suffering torture and the cage,” she stressed.
“I decided to prepare myself for hard days. I scheduled all my moments every day. My program was I started to remember all the songs and the contents of the Mojahedin books and the martyrs’ biographies that I already had read and started to repeat them. I had a physical exercise program. We weren’t allowed to move, but I exercised in my mind. I nursed patients in my mind,” she explained.
“At night, when we couldn’t sleep due to the loudspeakers, I trained myself to shut down those noises and take myself to pleasant places in my memories,” she added.
“The hardest times were the feeling of loneliness. I thought of God, and I thought of my leader, Massoud Rajavi. I spoke to him, and this way, I didn’t feel alone anymore,” Ms. Hassan continued.
“The torturers thought they would break our will through torture. However, they only made us stronger, as we understood that this proved what we were doing was right,” she emphasized.
“In prison, we considered ourselves PMOI representatives, and we deemed it our responsibility to defend their values. When I came out of prison, the first thing I did was to re-join my organization. This is a path that will continue until the end,” Ms. Haj-Hassan concluded. Her speech drew chants and applause from the audience.
“I was in the regime’s prisons for five years and I witnessed many tortures. I was arrested in 1981 because I had participated in a peaceful MEK protest and spent many years in Gohardasht (Rajai Shahr) and Evin prisons. When the regime wasn’t able to break the will of the MEK woman through torture, they created a compound called the ‘residential units,’” said Ms. Jaberi.
“This was a secret compound. I was there for 40 days. From the first day, I was tortured brutally with whips and physically beaten. They took all of us to a room, blindfolded us, and told us that they would kill us until that night. They tortured us for hours until midnight,” she stated.
“My hands were swollen from the whiplashes. My face and body were bruised. The regime’s torturer said, ‘This is your hell. No one will hear you here. You will all die here.’ They kept us awake for many days and didn’t let us sleep,” she continued.
“Some of my friends were kept in this place for six months. We weren’t even allowed to scream under torture. Every command was given with whip lashes. For instance, if they wanted to tell us that we could sleep, they would do so by whipping us,” she added.
“After 40 days, I was taken to Evin Prison. Some of my friends had lost their mental balance. Some of the prisoners would not even speak of the tortures they had suffered. They said that the torturers made them make animal noises and insult themselves. Some had been raped,” Ms. Jaberi explained.
“I have faith that with the leadership of Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, we will free Iran. It was this faith that helped me overcome the tough conditions of the prison,” she concluded to cheers and chants from the audience.
A video clip about the 1988 Massacre was shown to the conference attendees. MEK members held up photographs of loved ones who were martyred in the massacre. Some held more than one photograph. Mrs. Rajavi wiped tears from her eyes during the presentation.
Witnesses to the 1988 Massacre
Majid Saheb Jam
“I was imprisoned for 17 years. My crime was supporting the MEK. I witnessed many human rights violations. The 1988 massacre was a premeditated and well-planned crime. Some of the people who were directly involved in this crime still hold high positions of power. The regime has done everything in its power to hide its crime. It didn’t even tell the families of the victims the whereabouts of the burial places,” said Mr. Sahebjam.
“During the massacre, the judges only asked one question, in a short trial that lasted only a few minutes. They asked, “What are your charges?” Uttering the word ‘Mojahed’ was enough to seal the fate of the prisoner and send him to the gallows,” he added.
“The prisoners in the regime’s dungeons bore the scars of torture on their bodies. The 1988 massacre was an opportunity for the regime to hide the evidence of its horrible crimes. I personally know at least 20 families who have lost two of their children to the executioners of the regime,” he went on.
“Many of the prisoners were aged 14,15 and 16 when they were arrested. These people were later executed by the regime,” he stressed.
“During the 1988 massacre, dozens of MEK supporters had served their sentence. However, they were kept in prison because they would not repent their support for the MEK. They were executed in 1988 because of their dedication to freedom and human values,” Sahebjam concluded.
“I spent 11 years in prison, five of those years in solitary confinement. During the 1988 massacre, I was hospitalized because of torture. I was unconscious in the clinic when they called my name for execution, and this is how I survived,” said Mr. Naderi.
“After the executions, when you were taken to the cells, they asked for your name and checked in a notebook. In the notebook, all the names were crossed, which meant they were executed,” he explained.
“In the beginning, they said nothing of the executions, claiming the prisoners were going for family visits. In many smaller cities, not even a single person survived to tell the story of the massacre,” Mr. Naderi added.
“In prison, I was severely tortured. After eight months of torture, I and five other prisoners were taken to a mullah who said we were enemies of God and would be executed that night. They took us to the place of execution. They tied our hands and we heard the guns being loaded. They fired, but they show a meter above our heads. We suffered a traumatic experience. One of the prisoners fainted and another lost his eyesight,” he said.
“The 1988 massacre was planned from two years before. However, the massacre continues to this day. We must stop this,” Mr. Naderi concluded.
“I spent 10 years in the regime’s prisons. Many of my friends were teenagers when they were arrested. They spent many years in prison and were finally executed. People who had served their sentences and their families were waiting for them. However, they never got to see them,” said Mr. Royaie.
“One of my friends was executed five years after his sentence was finished. He was taken to the gallows just as he defended the name of Mojahed. Many of the prisoners’ families died after hearing that their loved ones were executed. The father of one of my friends had a cardiac arrest when he heard about his son’s execution. So you could say the regime even executed our families,” he said.
“Some of these families are still staring at the pictures of their loved ones and crying after 30 years. Some of the parents lost their sanity when their children were executed,” Mr. Royaie added.
“The regime even executed the disabled and handicapped. Yet these prisoners stood tall when they went to the gallows. One of my friends had lost his mentality due to the tortures. However, when they took him to the judge, he stood tall and said, ‘I’m a Mojahed.’ He was executed,” he recalled.
“The 1988 massacre was a national disaster, but it is also the pride of our nation. Today, people who weren’t even born then are calling for justice. The members of the 1988 ‘Death Commissions’ are members of the government today,” Mr. Royaie said.
“When I think about those brave prisoners, I am humbled. With the justice movement, I feel that they’re here with us, in Ashraf 3,” he concluded.
The historical leader of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran – PMOI (MEK). The photo was the “young” magazine cover in June 1979, when Massoud Rajavi was introduced as a candidate for the 1st Presidential Election. Soon Rajavi became the most popular candidate, representing the youth, the ethnic and religious minorities and the most progressive forces in Iran. This alerted the regime’s supreme leader and he disallowed Massoud Rajavi from continuing the race. Rajavi withdraw voluntarily to prevent any conflict with the government
January 20 is the anniversary of the freedom of the last group of political prisoners in Iran under the Shah’s dictatorship in 1979.
This is the day when the motto of “free all political prisoners” became a reality. This was one of the main slogans chanted in popular demonstrations and uprisings under the Shah.
The anniversary of Massoud Rajavi and the last group of political prisoner’s freedom on January 20, 1979, is a reminder of the Iranian people’s resolve in achieving freedom and the perseverance of the PMOI/MEK and freedom fighters of #Iran.#FreeIran
The last group of political prisoners incarcerated by the Shah’s regime included two of the most prominent and well-known political prisoners of the time, Massoud Rajavi and Moussa Khiabani.
the remaining leadership of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran- PMOI (MEK) at the time. Those were the days when nationwide popular uprisings against the Shah had broken the spell of repression, and under the public opinion pressure from inside Iran and abroad, the Shah’s dictatorship had been forced to free the last group of political prisoners on the night of January 20, 1979, just three weeks before the fall of the Shah who had fled the country only four days earlier on January 16.
In preparation for their freedom, the last group of political prisoners had already been transferred from the Evin Prison to the Qasr Prison in downtown Tehran.
People had been gathering for days outside the Qasr Prison demanding their freedom. With the flight of the Shah, the last obstacle for their freedom was gone. The Shah later wrote in his memoirs that his greatest mistake was releasing the terrorists [reference to political prisoners] from jail.
One of the great concerns in those days was for the safety of the prisoners who had been held until the last minutes by the Shah’s regime. People feared that the Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, would stage-manage their murders.
The interrogators of the Evin Prison had a record of feeding cyanide to a number of prisoners and killing them.
In another incident on April 19, 1975, the SAVAK set up Bijan Jazani, six of his comrades, and two PMOI members –Kazem Zolanvar and Mostafa Javan Khoshdel—on the hills of Evin and shot them in the back, claiming that they had tried to escape.
On the night of January 20, 1979, people from Tehran and other cities had gathered outside the Qasr Prison waiting for hours, demanding the immediate release of all the remaining political prisoners.
On the other hand, the families of MEK and Fedaii prisoners and other groups of people had been staging a sit-in outside the Justice Ministry in Tehran since a week before, demanding freedom of the last group of political prisoners.
Meanwhile, the regime had declared a state of emergency (curfew). Nobody was allowed to move around the city after 9 p.m. They warned the gathering of people outside the Qasr Prison, firing shots into the air to disperse them. Their threats were not heeded. Angry people clenched their fists and spoke out about their intention to bring down the walls of the prison to free the political prisoners.
Their persistence finally bore fruit and forced the authorities to back down.
Eyewitnesses say that almost two hours before the state of emergency, the Shah’s generals and prison officials went to one of the wards and hastily took away Massoud Rajavi. The measure worried other prisoners in the ward before it became clear that they had taken Massoud Rajavi to the prison’s balcony so that the crowd of people outside the prison would see him. People overwhelmed by seeing that Massoud Rajavi is safe, and they started throwing flowers at him.
One of the Bazaar merchants who was on the balcony with Massoud Rajavi, took the megaphone and told the crowd that all prisoners had received amnesty. Massoud Rajavi grabbed the megaphone and reiterated, “There was no amnesty. Nobody has committed any crime here to be granted amnesty. Everyone can see that it is the people of Iran who are breaking the chains and shattering the prisons. Moreover, if anyone is to grant amnesty, it is us.”
Then, the prison’s warden announced that since there was not much time left to the beginning of the martial law, the crowd should disperse and open the way for the last group of prisoners to walk out. The crowd cried out and nobody moved. Everyone stayed in their place and no one moved.
One of the PMOI prisoners who were among the last group freed on January 20, 1979, described the final hours of their imprisonment. He said:
Later, when everyone was almost ready, Moussa (Khiabani) called everyone to the room at the end of Ward 8 where he always worked.
With a smile on his face, he asked,
“Is everyone ready?” Then he looked around at each and every one of us, one by one. He said, “Massoud Rajavi was busy and he could not personally come to speak to you before leaving. I am conveying his message. As you can see, we are getting freed. This is a gift from our people and the result of the sacrifices made, the blood spilled on the streets. So, we did not gain our freedom free… We are not leaving prison to go after our own comfortable lives.
The form of our struggle might change, but the goal remains the same, freedom and liberation of our people. Until now, we were fighting for this cause inside prisons, and we paid its price by enduring various forms of pressure and torture.
Tomorrow should be doing the same in society. Do not think that the difficult conditions will end by leaving prison. Outside here, fighting (for the cause) is going to be more difficult and would require greater sacrifices.
To maintain the precious freedom, we need to constantly make sacrifices. We have vowed to pay the price (of freedom of our people) at any time. Know that the circumstances are going to be much more complicated. Of course, we will pave the way just as we have up until now thanks to the vigilance, intelligence, and deep faith of our brother, Massoud Rajavi.”
Everyone was silent, gazing at Moussa and carefully listening to him. After a few hours, the gates of Qasr Prison were opened. Massoud and Ashraf Rajavi, Moussa Khiabani, and a number of other PMOI and Fedaii members walked out of prison and went directly to the Justice Ministry where people were holding a sit-in.
The next morning, various groups of people went to the residence of Rezaii Family (A famous family in Iran, whom had lost several of their children to the Shah’s dictatorship, including Mehdi Rezaii, who was executed by the Shah’s SAVAK when he was only 19) to pay a visit to the freed political prisoners. They were followed by Ayatollah Taleghani and Medhi Bazargan on the next days who also went there and met with the MEK members.
On January 21, 1979, the Kayhan daily reported on the enthusiastic gathering of the people of Tehran and their warm welcome to the last group of political prisoners:
The area surrounding the prison was filled with excitement until midnight. Relatives and families of prisoners, as well as their comrades and acquaintances who had been waiting impatiently all night with chants of hail to Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), salutes to Fedaii, opened their arms to embrace 125 of the best children of this nation.
Meanwhile, a large group of families of political prisoners were continuing their sit-in at the lawyers’ guild, waiting for their children.
Referring to the moments when the names of prisoners were being read out loud, Kayhan wrote:
“Every name that was read out, the several thousand people in the gathering hailed the prisoner and cried out in happiness. To give assurance to the people on the freedom of political prisoners, one of the prisoners spoke to them directly through a megaphone. Massoud Rajavi who faced overwhelming support of the people said,
‘Are there any words by which one could thank you, people? Indeed, all of us owe our freedom to you, the people of Iran, and not to anyone else or any other particular group.’”