Human rights defenders targeted for seeking truth and justice include some born after the 1979 Revolution, who have taken to social media and other platforms to discuss the past atrocities and attended memorial gatherings held at Khavaran, a deserted gravesite in south Tehran where some of the thousands of political prisoners who were extrajudicially executed in the summer of 1988 are buried in unmarked mass graves.

The prison sentences against Atena Daemi, 29, and Omid Alishenas, 33, are examples of court verdicts reviewed by Amnesty International in which engaging in online discussions about the 1988 massacres has been cited as evidence of “criminal” activity deemed threatening to national security and insulting to the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and used to convict the human rights defenders.

 The audio tape of Montazeri

So was the release in August 2016 of an audio recording of a meeting in 1988 in which senior officials were heard discussing and defending, for the first time, the details of their plans concerning the mass extrajudicial executions of 1988.  The audio file has revived calls for an inquiry into the killings of several thousand political prisoners in a wave of extrajudicial executions across the country during 1988. This has prompted renewed efforts by the authorities to silence all public discussions about the gross violations committed during the 1980s.

 The renewed crackdown follows recently revived calls for an inquiry into the killings of several thousand political prisoners in a wave of extrajudicial executions across the country in the summer of 1988. This was triggered by the release in August 2016 of an audio recording of a meeting in 1988 in which senior officials are heard discussing and defending the details of their plans to carry out the mass executions.  The release of the audio recording triggered a chain of unprecedented reactions from high-level officials, leading them to admit for the first time that the mass killings of 1988 were planned at the highest levels of government.

The history of the 1988 Massacre

The mass extrajudicial executions of 1988 began shortly after an unsuccessful armed incursion by the Iraq based People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran in July that year. Political prisoners from across the country were rounded up and held incommunicado, with no news of them heard for months afterwards. Reports circulated among relatives that prisoners were being executed in groups and buried in unmarked mass graves. Distraught family members searched the cemeteries for signs of freshly dug trenches.

 

From late 1988 onwards, families were verbally told by the authorities that their relatives had been killed but the bodies were not returned and most locations of burial sites were not disclosed.  Most of those executed had already spent years in prison for the peaceful exercise of their rights, including undertaking activities such as distributing newspapers and leaflets, taking part in peaceful anti-government demonstrations, and having real or perceived affiliations with various political opposition groups. Some had already completed their sentences but had not been released because they refused to make statements of “repentance”.  Today, it is still not known exactly how many victims were extrajudicial executed and precisely where the victims were buried in secret. To date, no Iranian officials have been investigated and brought to justice for the extrajudicial executions. The authorities have deployed various tactics to destroy evidence of mass graves including bulldozing; turning the sites into unsightly garbage dumps; hiding mass graves beneath new, individual burial spots; and pouring concrete over mass graves.  They have also regularly tormented their families by referring to mass graves as “the damned land” (la’nat abad) and describing their loved ones as “outlaws” who did not deserve a proper burial or tombstone. Families have been forbidden from holding commemorative gatherings or decorating the mass gravesites with memorial messages.

Maryam Akbari Monfared, in an open letter from inside Evin prison, November

Prisoner of conscience Maryam Akbari Monfared filed, from inside prison, a formal complaint with the Office of the Prosecutor in Tehran in October 2016, seeking an official investigation into the mass executions of several thousand political prisoners, including two of her siblings, in 1988; the location of the mass graves where their bodies were buried; and the identity of the perpetrators involved.  To date, the authorities have not processed the complaint. Instead, they have resorted to various punitive tactics. Since October 2016, they have refused to take her to her medical appointments outside prison to receive adequate treatment for her rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid problems. As a result, she is experiencing severe pain in her legs. They have also repeatedly threatened to stop her family visits. In May 2017, she was threatened with an additional three-year prison term and exile to a remote prison.  Maryam Akbari Monfared was arrested on 31 December 2009 and forcibly disappeared for five months. It later transpired that she had been held in solitary confinement for the first 43 days after her arrest, during which she was subjected to intense interrogations without access to a lawyer. She met her state-appointed lawyer for the first time at her trial, which was limited to one brief hearing lasting less than an hour. She was sentenced to 15 years in May 2010 after Branch 15 of a Revolutionary Court in Tehran convicted her of “enmity against God” (moharebeh). The conviction was solely based on the fact that she had made phone calls to her relatives, who are members of the banned People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran and had visited them once in Iraq. Her husband has said that during her trial session, the judge told her she was paying for the activities of her relatives with the PMOI. Branch 33 of the Supreme Court upheld the sentence in August 2010

Human rights defenders targeted for seeking truth and justice include younger human rights defenders born after the 1979 Revolution who have taken to social media and other platforms to discuss the past atrocities, and attended memorial gatherings held at Khavaran.  For example, human rights activist Amir Amirgholi was imprisoned from December 2014 to May 2017 solely for his peaceful human rights activities, including participating in gatherings at Khavaran to commemorate people executed and buried in mass graves in 1988.  Amnesty International has reviewed court verdicts in which engaging in online discussions about the 1988 massacres has also been cited as evidence of “criminal” activity deemed threatening to national security and insulting to the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  In the case of anti-death penalty activist Omid Alishenas (see Chapter 5), the court verdict mentions “publication of false materials about those executed in 1988 under the pretext of remembering victims” among the list of activities for which Omid Alishenas was convicted of “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” and “insulting the Supreme Leader.

originally published in the justice.iran

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