The 1988 Massacre of 30,000 Political Prisoners

It is exactly thirty years since the coordinated massacre of political prisoners began in Iran. The UN now has irrefutable evidence of the summary execution of more than 30,000 supporters of the PMOI/MEK by the Iranian regime in the summer of 1988. They have enough evidence to present to the International Criminal Court who could now issue indictments against those responsible, many of whom still hold positions of power inside the Iranian regime.

This atrocity must rank as a crime against humanity and one of the most horrific mass murders of the late twentieth century. The mass executions, in jails across Iran, were carried out on the basis of a fatwa by the regime’s then-Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. A ‘Death Committee’ of four senior officials approved all the executions. 

Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, a member of that ‘Death Committee’, was until mid-2017 President Hassan Rouhani’s Justice Minister. When his part in the murders became known publicly, he was replaced by Alireza Avaie, who himself was a prominent executioner during the 1988 massacre, in his role as Chief Prosecutor in the city of Dezful. Avaie has been on the EU’s terrorist blacklist for years. Indeed, it was a disgrace and blatant affront to those who believe in human rights that the UN invited Alireza Avaie to address the annual UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva in March this year

Other members of the 1988 Death Committee also still hold prominent positions in Iran. Rouhani himself, the famously so called ‘moderate’ president, must have been well aware of the massacre as he was deputy head of the Iranian military at the time. Monstrous acts of butchery like this have become grisly milestones in the history of oppression and tyranny in contemporary Iran. Yet, thirty years on from this barbaric crime, international condemnation has been slow to emerge. Indeed, the West still seems determined to overlook this perhaps the greatest human rights outrage since the end of World War II, so that it can sign lucrative trade deals with Tehran. It is a disgrace that there has been no prosecution of the criminals who orchestrated and carried out the gruesome 1988 murders. 

The massacre victims were buried in mass graves and their fates largely obfuscated by the regime. The Iranian regime has already begun destroying the mass graves of political prisoners secretly executed by the mullahs’ security forces in the 1980s, despite a plea from Amnesty International to halt the desecration and allow an investigation to take place.

On July 20, some of the relatives of those killed during the 1988 massacre visited one of the secret gravesites, in the city of Ahvaz, only to find that the graves of their loved ones had been destroyed. The Ahvaz site was known as the burial site for those killed during the 1988 massacre and for dissidents killed by the Regime between 1981 and 1984. This destruction is not only disrespectful to the dead, it also prevents a real investigation into the massacre from ever taking place by destroying evidence, which is precisely what the mullahs want.

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research and Advocacy Director, said: “The atrocities of the 1988 massacre in Iran is a wound that still remains open three decades later. By destroying this vital forensic evidence, the Iranian authorities are deliberately reinforcing an environment of impunity. The memory of those killed cannot simply be erased or buried beneath concrete.”

The families of political dissidents who were forcibly disappeared and extra-judicially killed in Ahvaz, southern Iran, in the 1980s are suffering untold mental anguish and distress as the authorities destroy the graves of their loved ones. But they are afraid of facing further persecution if they speak out.

It is now crucial for the EU and US to contain this terrorist regime. Europe’s policy of active engagement with Iran and particularly Mrs Mogherini's warm relations with the regime,  

has only emboldened the mullahs and encouraged them to become even more aggressive, bringing the world closer to yet another catastrophic war. It is shameful that the West continues to act out of fear and cowardice and it is high time they realized that the peace they have bought is only temporary and the price they have paid has been freedom and democracy for the 80 million oppressed and beleaguered citizens of Iran. 

The first step on the road to rebellion is always the slow shift in the population from regime neutrality to a widespread but unorganised and unarmed resistance.

The key moment comes when people begin asking themselves why they are not joining in; knocking on their neighbours’ doors and saying: “These kids are dying for us. Let’s join the protest.” This is the tipping point, when society decides that it is their fight too, then everyone becomes personally concerned. People power will always win in the end.

Where citizens have had to live under a dictatorship that has created oppression, human rights abuse, poverty and conflict, they will invariably rise up in open revolt. That is what is happening in Iran. The uprising began on 28 December 2017. The widespread nature of the demonstrations has continued and intensified ever since, covering the entire country. The chants of the protesters have shown that this is an uprising against the regime itself. Despite the deadly crackdown by the mullahs’ security forces, it has become abundantly clear that the clerical regime is on its last legs and its demise is inevitable. 

The most recent wave of protests In Iran took place in August and many were arrested. During the widespread suppression, a young man identified as Reza Otadi was directly shot and killed by security forces on Friday August 3 in Gohardasht, Karaj. Amnesty International issued a statement on 8 August, calling on the regime to "release any individuals held solely for peacefully taking part in the protests.” Amnesty is also urging the authorities to protect all detainees from torture and other ill-treatment and to reveal the fate and whereabouts of dozens of detainees whose families have not heard from them since their arrest." 

Dictatorships like the mullah-led regime in Iran, depend on the support of very few people to stay in power. They govern through corruption, bribery, blackmail, extortion and fear. They channel state funds to a select clique of cronies on whom they can rely. In a country like Iran where 80 million people are seething with rage and frustration, this small coterie of comrades will be quickly swept aside. But what happens then? Even people who recognise the mullahs’ days are numbered do not want to see another Iraq or Syria. They do not want to see Iran dissolve into a chaos of sectarian strife and civil war. So, who can replace the evil, fascist regime that has ravaged Iran for four decades?

To answer this question, we need look no further than at those whom the mullahs have identified as their main rivals. By openly accusing the PMOI and NCRI of playing a leading role in the uprising, Khamenei and other prominent clerics have exposed their acknowledgement that indeed there is a powerful organized opposition led by Maryam Rajavi. 

Mrs Rajavi has an explicit platform representing the aspirations of the population and consistent with international norms to lead the country forward, with clear demarcations from both the previous and current dictatorships. Her 10-point political platform, calling for a secular, parliamentary government, human rights, women’s rights, an end to the death penalty and an end to the nuclear threat, is something that the majority of Iranians now crave.

After years of dismissing the PMOI as an insignificant irritant, the mullahs are now terrified of Mrs Rajavi and her pledge to restore peace, freedom and democracy to Iran’s 80 million beleaguered citizens. The existence of dictators and oppressive regimes is the cause of all war, all genocide, all famine and almost all poverty on earth. The toppling of dictators is always the greatest resounding signal that good can triumph over evil. There is no doubt that the evil tyrants in Tehran are facing their final days. May they be consigned to the fires of hell from where they came.

William Wallace, the great Scottish patriot of Braveheart fame said: “Deep in the human heart the fire of justice burns.” The fire of justice is now burning brightly in the hearts of the Iranian people and soon the fiery flames of hell will consume the mullahs.