The crimes of the Iranian regime
Published in “Die Welt” on October 23 2009
By Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, columnist for WELT DEBATTE
In September, the renowned Iranian-American human rights organization “Iran Human Rights Documentation Center” (IHRDC) published a report about the mass executions in Iranian prisons in July 1988. This report proves that the responsible Iranian regime officials committed crimes against humanity. Comparable crimes of other countries’ governments were dealt with at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda.
Human rights organizations that provide reports about massive human rights violations in Iran are an important lever in supporting the Iranian civil society. A comparable historic experience is known from the support to the democracy-oriented civil society in the former socialist countries by Western Europe.
Before we present an overview of the crimes against humanity committed by the Iranian regime, the director of the Human Rights Documentation Center, Ms Rene Redman, will give a few comments. In an interview on October 22, 2009 she explained why the Human Rights Center might be shut down.
„Since the founding of the Center, the U.S. State Department has provided approximately 3 million U.S. dollars to support the Center’s work. In July 2009, the State Department rejected a further request from the Center. It was not the first time that the State Department has rejected a request from the Center. But we were surprised when our application was rejected in July, at a time when the world was witnessing the Iranian government brutally suppressing all dissent. The IHRDC is an independent and nonpartisan organization, which by no means is dependent from the State Department. We will continue to vigorously look for other financing options so that we can continue to document human rights violations in Iran in the future. Unfortunately, if we will not find any further funding opportunities, we will have to close in June 2010″.
The 112-page report is the story of organized crimes, of systematic tortures, and of the execution of thousands of political prisoners in Iranian prisons.
[Translator’s note: A link to “The deadly fatwa – Iran’s 1988 prison massacre” (pdf, English) is given in the German article]
This report, whose contents are summarized below, is about mass executions in Iranian prisons in the summer of 1988.
The report was published in September 2009, at a time when hundreds of protesters were imprisoned in Iran just for demonstrating against electoral fraud, and the world was witness to brutally forced confessions. The IHRDC hopes to raise the awareness of Iranian citizens and the world in order to prevent further systematic crimes against humanity, regardless of who rules Iran.
Secret mass executions in the summer of 1988
Those arbitrarily killed were detainees who were not willing to give up their political ideas. Many of those prisoners were still teenagers when they were arrested. They supported the People’s Mojahedeen or communist organizations. Some of those executed were even members of the Tudeh – the Moscow-oriented party that supported the Islamic regime until 1983. Those who were executed did not belong to the leadership of those organizations. The leading members had either fled from Iran or been executed in the first years after the Revolution. In 1988, only ordinary members convicted of their political ideologies were imprisoned.
The report of the IHRDC is based on authentic statements from family members of prisoners executed in the 1988 massacres.
A Fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini
The IHRD-report points out that the executions of 1988 were not the first executions since the Islamic Revolution. However, the systematic killings within a short period of time, and especially the manner in which the regime until today tries to conceal those executions, account for the extraordinary nature of this crime.
The executions were based on a fatwa, a ruling of the former revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini, which was issued shortly after the signing of the peace treaty with Iraq. Apparently, the leaders of the regime were well aware that the implementation of the fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini contradicted both international law and the national law of Iran. Therefore, everything possible is still be done today to conceal this state crime.
The cover-up strategy was revealing: The prisoners from one day to the next were not allowed to have visitors. At the same time, a number of public executions were held in order to divert public attention from the mass executions that took place behind closed prison doors. Many family members of executed political activists do not know until today in which mass grave their relatives were buried. Recently, the regime even completely destroyed the Khavaran cemetery in Tehran with bulldozers. Apparently, the Iranian leaders believe that by ever more violence they can wipe out the story of their crimes.
Elimination of the entire political opposition
The study of the IHRDC emphasizes that to this day the exact number of executed political prisoners is not known, and in February 1989, Hashemi Rafsanjani spoke of less than 1000 executed political prisoners. In 1990, Amnesty International estimated that about 2,000 political prisoners were killed. Ayatollah Montazeri wrote in his memoirs that the share of killed Mojahedeen alone amounted to approximately 2,800 to 3,800. Montazeri also speaks of about 500 non-religious political prisoners among the victims of these massacres.
The Mojahedeen themselves speak of 30,000 executed people, they have so far released the names of 3,208 executed persons, states IHRDC.
Nima Parvaresh, a leftist intellectual, who was released from prison and fled, reported a number of 4,500 to 5,000 executed prisoners in the summer of 1988.
Many of those executed had helped Ayatollah Khomeini to gain power during the revolution. A few years later they were killed as dissidents. A majority of the dead belonged to or sympathized with the Mojahedeen and some socialist and communist factions.
An impartial report
The report of the IHRDC also discusses the different ideologies of the organizations whose low ranking members and supporters were executed in the summer of 1988.
For example, it is clearly reported that the People’s Mojahedeen at first backed Ayatollah Khomeini and even the occupation of the American Embassy in Tehran. However, they boycotted the referendum on the enforcement of the new Khomeini constitution. The Mojahedeen resumed their armed struggle against the new regime, just as they had fought the Shah’s regime.
Mass executions had begun to take place in the beginning of the Islamic Revolution. The regime of Khomeini reacted, and from June to November 1981 executed 1,800 to 2,655 supporters of the political opposition, among them many members of the People’s Mojahedeen and leftist organizations.
The report does not discuss the political views of the victims, but the illegitimacy of mass killings.
Ayatollah Khomeini called for mass murder
Ayatollah Montazeri, who has been under house arrest for years, was among the few who have stood against the fatwa of Khomeini. Major clerics, however. supported the systematic mass murder. For example, Abdul-Karim Mousavi Ardebili in 1988 was the Head of the Judiciary. He is a Grand Ayatollah and a teacher of Islamic law in the holy city of Qom. In July 1988, Ardebili said in a Friday prayer sermon that the regime was planning to execute thousands of political prisoners without trial. It was also publicly known that Ayatollah Mousavi Ardebili had asked the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Khomeini whether those prisoners who were not yet sentenced or had served part of their punishment were to be executed.
Khomeini was also asked whether provincial courts were allowed to independently carry out executions. Khomeini had replied to that in another judgement: “In all cases where the person in any stage or at any time insists on their position as a hypocrite, the executions must be carried out.” The term “hypocrite” was used particularly for muslims who adopted political views or interpretations of Islam that were not in line with Khomeini’s ideology.
Khomeini literally called for mass murder and added: “Eradicate the enemies of Islam immediately.”
It was Ayatollah Khomeini who demanded the killing of dissidents at highest possible speed.
There was another fatwa for the non-religious political prisoners who were considered apostates and in the opinion of the state ideologists had lost their faith.
Crimes against humanity
The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) ensures that the darkest pages of Iranian history will never be forgotten. The IHRDC’s report stresses that Iran is obliged to adhere to internationally applicable human rights. The regime by arresting, torturing, and killing people for their religious and political beliefs has violated those rights. The prisoners never were a “threat to the security of the Iranian government”, says the study.
This study also highlights that the executions, tortures, and abductions of civilians constitute offenses that are liable to prosecution as crimes against humanity, especially since these crimes were widespread and systematic. At the command of the Supreme Leader of the Revolution Ayatollah Khomeini, a system was created that based itself on commissions deciding about executions. Thus, the offenders are to be held responsible for their crimes.
The report concludes that the verifiable crimes committed by those in charge in the Islamic Republic meet the conditions that qualify for punishment as a crime against humanity.
It emphasizes that not only arbitrary executions and torture must be punished according to international law. Since the adoption of the Rome Statute in 1998, also leaders of a state may be sued who by use of violence arranged for persons to disappear. Regimes can be punished under international law if they did not allow the relatives of an executed person to bury their loved ones, or if they refused to identify the graves of the executed.
The study concludes that the massacre of political prisoners in 1988 had been planned long before Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa. It is presumed that Ayatollah Khomeini wanted to bequeath an Islamic Republic with no opposition. While the political opposition had been destroyed shortly after the revolution, the opposition in the prisons was now to be extinguished.
The report names responsible figures. Some examples:
Seyyed Hossein Hosseinzadeh: He was the head of the prison guards in Tehran. At the same time he was a member of the “death committees” deciding on who should be executed.
Mojtaba Halvai Asgar: He was the head of Evin’s security department in 1988. He is said to have been directly involved with the question of which prisoners were presented to the death committee in Tehran.
Davood Lashkari: He was the head of the Gohar-Dasht prison security department. According to eyewitnesses, he was an adviser to the death committees.
Mohammad Moghissei: He was the director of the Gohar-Dasht prison and today works in the Iranian judicial apparatus. He was a member of a death committee.
Morteza Eshraghi: He was an Iranian prosecutor and a member of one of the mentioned death committees that on the basis of Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa issued killing orders.
Ebrahim Raissi: He is a prosecutor; in 1988 he was a member of a death committee. Today he is the chairman of a governmental surveillance authority.
Hossein Ali Nayyeri: He was a member of a death committee. Currently Nayyeri is the chairman of the Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi: He was intelligence minister and a member of the death committees. He is a former member of Ahmadinejad’s cabinet, and currently advises the revolutionary leader Khamenei on matters of national security.
Ali Mobasheri: In 1988 he was a religious judge in Evin prison. He frequently represented Nayyeri in the death committees. Currently he is the president of the Revolutionary Courts of Iran.
Esmail Shushtari: He was the director of all governmental prisons and until 1989 was the minister of justice. He frequently was a member of one of the death committees.
Mohammad Mohammadi Reyshahri: He was Intelligence Minister in 1988. Today, he represents the revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei on specific issues, such as the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani: In February 1989 Rafsanjani said that “during the past months” less than 1000 prisoners were executed. Currently he is the chairman of the so-called Expediency Discernment Council and the Guardian Council.
Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei: The present leader of the revoltuion was Iran’s president in 1988 and then became the “Leader”. When asked about the executions of 1988, he replied: “In the Islamic Republic we have the death penalty for those who deserve to be executed. Do you think we should give candies to the prisoners associated with the activities of the hypocrites?”
Even Mir Hossein Mousavi is named, who was Prime Minister in 1988. Though Mousavi still refers to Ayatollah Khomeini today, but one of his supporters, when asked about his role in the mass murders of 1988, said that Mousavi has changed since then.