The 1988 Massacre, a Crime against Humanity Remains Unpunished 32 Years After
Iran’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.
Following the decree, some 30,000 political prisoners were extra-judicially executed within several months.
Khomeini’s decree called for the execution of all political prisoners affiliated to the main opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI or MEK) who remained loyal to the organisation.
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:
1. 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?
2. Those Monafeqin [PMOI] 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 [PMOI], are they also condemned to death?
3. In reviewing the status of the Monafeqin [PMOI] prisoners, is it necessary to refer the cases of Monafeqin [PMOI] prisoners in counties that have an independent judicial organ to the provincial center, or can the county’s judicial authorities act autonomously?
The massacre of 1988 remains to be one of the darkest stains on the recent history of mankind, as one of the least exposed and discussed. Since then Iranian civil society is seeking justice and asking the regime’s government to break the taboo on openly discussing the massacre and demanding justice.
Testimonies by witnesses of the 1988 massacre
Ms. Homa Jaberi, former political prisoner
“My name is Homa Jaberi. I was in prison for five-and-half years, two years in solitary confinement. The women who were held in Ghezel Hesar prison lost their mental balance due to the torture and inhuman conditions, and they couldn’t explain their experience. The few whose sanity did survive the horrific experience said they were forced to walk on all fours, make animal sounds, were deprived of food, and some were raped.
“Today, I want to discuss another type of torture. Outlets such as Der Spiegel and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung are accusing MEK members in Ashraf of torture. I ask myself, am I, a former political prisoner, being accused of torture?
“We were the generation who went to the execution chambers because we chose freedom. We chose this path with open eyes and full knowledge, and decided to sacrifice everything for freedom. The world must know what happened to the MEK in the past 40 years. European leaders should know that when they shake hands with this regime, they must remember the suffering of the Iranian people.
“Our people are still experiencing this pain every day. We are determined to overthrow this regime and no obstacle will stop us.”
Damona Taavoni, MEK member
“My father was executed by the regime. I went to prison with my mother when I was six years old. I remember the shouts of prisoners in torture chambers. As I grew up, I heard inspiring stories about the victims of the 1988 massacre. Prisoners were asked a single question: Do you support the MEK. Those who said yes were executed. Those who said no, survived. We know that 30,000 said yes.
“One of the cellmates of my father said that his sentencing took only two minutes. After that, he was taken to the execution chambers. I shed tears for my father, but I was also proud because I know that he chose to sacrifice his life for the freedom of his people.
“I’m here to be the voice of the 30,000 political prisoners who died. They made a decision to sacrifice their lives so people in our country don’t have to sell their body parts to put food on the table of their families.
“To [Iranian regime Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei, [judiciary chief Ebrahim] Raisi, [President Hassan] Rouhani and others involved in the 1988 massacre and still in power, I say: Fear these names, you hear the echo of their voice every day in the streets of Iran. You will be held accountable
“I would like to commend Mrs. Maryam Rajavi whose efforts are coming to fruition. I promise to you that I will hold to these values and sacrifices just like you did.”
Bahador Kiamarzi, MEK member
“When I was a child, I was in prison with my mother. I had never seen my father. Once, I was told I would get to visit him. But I only got to peek at him through the frame of the cell door. The regime didn’t let me see him because they wanted to enforce the utmost pressure on him.
“He was executed shortly after along with 30,000 other political prisoners in the Iranian regime’s prisons.
“We will continue our struggle for our people. The sacrifice of the prisoners will not be in vain. We are more determined than ever in Ashraf 3 to overthrow the regime.”
Kazem Panahi, former political prisoner
“I was an engineering student in Tabriz after the 1979 revolution. I was arrested in 1981 for being a MEK supporter. I was tortured brutally in the first few days and saw interrogators torture other prisoners.
“I was in prison for a short time before escaping but saw many cases of torture and brutality. I was given a death sentence under the charge of moharebeh. There was no court or lawyer and the interrogators decided the fate of prisoners.
“We have repeatedly called on the United Nations and the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the regime’s crimes. The regime leverages its lobbies outside Iran to launch a demonization against the MEK, who are in fact the first victims of the regime’s crimes. The goal of these demonization campaigns is to simply say that there is no democratic alternative to the regime. The regime wants to force the world to come to terms with them.
“But the MEK will never give up their efforts to overthrow the regime. This regime has no other destiny. We and our people will achieve this.”
Mr. Henri Leclerc, French lawyer and Honorary President of the Human Rights League
“We must not confound resistance with terrorism. The actions of the Iranian Resistance were self-defense, a reaction to a regime that terrorizes its own people.
“In Iran, people are not free to express themselves. By what law do they define who is the enemy of God and decide to execute people on this basis?
“We human rights activists try to help those who defend liberty. Regarding Iran, there’s a chain of crimes against humanity. Not only those who have been executed but those who have disappeared. We don’t even know where their bodies lie. Their memories are our struggle today. We must know what happened to them. Executions are still ongoing in Iran.
“We hear reports on executions, including two Kurds who were executed on July 14 based on confessions extracted through torture. They were executed as enemies of God.
“Three other young men have been sentenced to death. This is brutal and savage. Iran is in our hearts. We have been supporting freedom in Iran since the era of the shah. We were happy when the revolution happened. But shortly after executions started again. The international community must take action.”
“Torture continues even during the coronavirus pandemic. At this moment, Iranians are being tortured. More will be executed. We must not stop. The world must know what goes on in this country.”
Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)
Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, delivered the keynote speech at the event from Ashraf 3, Albania, in which she discussed the situation in Iran and the anniversary of key events in Iranian history and the Iranian Resistance.
“The NCRI alternative is a good yardstick and a mirror image, reflecting the struggles and resistance of the past 40 years. This truth fully shows why the regime’s demonization and animosity against the PMOI/MEK and the terrorism directed against the Iranian Resistance is carried out on such an enormous scale and what the objectives behind them are,” the NCRI President said.
Mrs. Rajavi described the 1988 massacre as “one of the most horrifying and indescribable crimes” of the regime.
“By his fatwa sanctioning the 1988 massacre, Khomeini intended to annihilate the generation of the PMOI/MEK,” Mrs. Rajavi added.
But the constant efforts of the Iranian Resistance have prevented the regime from destroying the memory of those who stood up for freedom in Iran. “Over the past 32 years, the Iranian Resistance has held hundreds and thousands of conferences, rallies, marches and symbolic trials in this regard and divulged numerous documents, names of the victims and their unmarked graves,” the Iranian opposition President continued.
The Call-for-Justice movement, initiated by Mrs. Rajavi in 2016, has played a pivotal role in shedding light on the 1988 massacre and crimes against humanity committed by the mullahs’ regime.
“The sacred blood of those martyrs, particularly those slain in 1988, are today roaring in Iran, giving rise to generation after generation of rebellious youths who are motivated and inspired by it… The PMOI/MEK members, who walked to the gallows and sacrificed their lives by the thousands for the cause of freedom, are now the topic of discussion in the Iranian society,” Mrs. Rajavi said.
Paying tribute to the tireless efforts of MEK martyrs and Iranian Resistance leader Massoud Rajavi, Mrs. Rajavi concluded her speech by saying, “For 40 years, the mullahs have been viciously crucifying the PMOI/MEK and the Iranian Resistance, particularly Massoud Rajavi, every day with the barrage of their lies and unfounded allegations, just like they killed and tortured our people and barbarically destroyed Iran.
“But Massoud Rajavi’s name inspires the rebellion and the fight for freedom, just as his name inspired the perseverance and resistance of political prisoners during the 1988 massacre… there will come a day when his dreams of a free Iran will come true. Yes, the day will come when the flowers of freedom and popular sovereignty will bloom in Iran.”
Íngrid Betancourt, former Colombian presidential candidate
“The people of Iran are chanting “Down with the Dictator, be it the Shah or the Supreme Leader.” They are referring to an ongoing alliance. Monarchists and theocrats have been constantly colluding against freedom fighters in Iran. Monarchists prefer this regime to the democratic option Iranians are calling for in the streets.
“What people in the streets of Iran are telling us is that they understand better than anyone how these two forces are working together. This alliance is also visible in the way they attack Iranian democratic forces, who are uniting demonstrators inside Iran. Monarchists and theocrats consider the NCRI and MEK as their enemy. They can see how people in Iran are recognizing the MEK’s role as a unifying force to overthrow the regime.
“The regime has failed to portray the MEK as a terrorist organization. They have failed every time.
“The regime holds the Iranian population as hostages and uses the name of God to do evil. This is why Iranians inside Iran and abroad are protesting. At the same time, the regime tries to blame the MEK for its own crimes. But after Friday’s rally, it is foolish to think anyone will fall for this propaganda.
“The MEK has suffered at the hands of Shah and the mullahs. They know who took away their freedom and who is the enemy. They have stayed together and fought together. This is their choice. They are recognized and admired for their struggle and skills, and their values. What the regime doesn’t understand is that Maryam Rajavi, the leader of this movement, is a woman who has suffered as much or more than anyone in her movement. She is the hope of millions. She is the key to freedom. She’s not a despot like her enemies, she’s a fighter for justice. She’s carried by the people, millions of Iranians, victims of the clerical regime. This is the stuff for heroes. This is the dreamer becoming the winner.
“Iranians understand that the best way to hold accountable the criminals for forty years of crime is to overthrow this regime.
Geoffry Robertson QC, renowned human rights barrister, academic and author
“32 years ago, I interviewed 40 survivors of the 1988 massacre, and I was staggered by my findings. I described it as the worst crime against humanity since the concentration camps of the Second World War,” said Geoffrey Robertson, QC and renowned human rights barrister.
Robertson read an excerpt from his book about the 1988 massacre, in which he has recorded the buildup to the executions and how the regime sent thousands of prisoners to their deaths without proper trial, without appeal, and without mercy.
“It went on in a second wave of mass murder, not because the MEK adherents had been hanged. This time, Marxists, atheists and people of other faiths were killed and were called enemies of God. The true enemy are the mullahs.
“As far as the families are concerned, they have been going to the place where they believe where the mass graves are. The cruelest of all is not telling the families where their loved ones are buried.
“There was no accountability because the UN was weak at the time. The UN representative was not able to go to Iran until they were able to disguise the graves and they could pretend the massacre had not happened. The UN failed in its duty.
“We must hold these people accountable because many of them are still alive and in power. A number of key individuals who carried out this mass crime are still in high positions in the Iranian state. Is there any hope of accountability?
“When we come out of the pandemic, there will be a greater view of human rights. The people will take down the statues of the ayatollahs and rewrite the history of Iran. I also think there is a movement in the human rights world that identifies human rights villains. Name them and shame them, and prevent them from entering their countries. Countries that have these targeted sanctions laws should sanction these criminals who are still alive. This way, we can hold them accountable and go on the offensive against the perpetrators of one of the worst crimes against humanity.”
Former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi
“The crimes of the ayatollahs against the Iranian people, starving the people, terrorizing the people and the nations of the region, these are the reasons we need action now.
“The regime is frightened of the movement led by Madame Rajavi. Your movement is visible and present because of the sacrifices of the thousands of political prisoners and others who sacrificed their lives.
“The regime’s embassies, which are launching pads for terrorist attacks, must be closed. The perpetrators of the 1988 massacre must be held to account. One of them is the head of the judiciary and another is a justice minister. The time for impunity is over.”
British MP Steve McCabe
“The regime has launched a campaign to demonize the MEK. That campaign is linked to the 1988 massacre. The massacre was planned over several years. Various factions were involved. The mullahs have tried to cover up the extent of the massacre.
“The revelations [by the Iranian Resistance] have shed light on the massacre in the West. The mullahs want to eliminate all opponents who don’t go along with their medieval mindset. This clarifies the need for a demonization campaign to silence the Iranian Resistance.
“We know who the oppressor is and what must change. You can’t lock up everyone and murder everyone. Freedom survives and the tide is changing. We remember those who died and sacrificed for the struggle.
“There must be justice.”
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, former Vice President of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2014 and President of the International Committee In Search of Justice
“The pain of the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners remains in the heart of families because justice has not been served. Every time we speak of crimes against humanity, we hear from the international community sentences like, ‘We call on Iranian authorities to make investigations and punish the perpetrators.’
“This is a cynical joke. The regime will not investigate the massacre. The minister of justice is one of the perpetrators. The supreme leader was involved in and continues to defend such atrocities.
“Many people ask why is the international community, the UN, the UNHRC, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Union, why all these organizations, so many governments, are so hesitant to do what they should do.
“Sometimes, there are trade interests. Sometimes there are political considerations. If this is the case, then they are acting against our own democratic principles and values.
“Sometimes they say we cannot interfere in Iran’s internal affairs. This is not an internal matter. It is an international matter. It has to do with our own respect for the rule of law.
“We must not forget that even though this regime is cruel and brutal, it lies about many things, including its own strength. It is weaker than it shows and right now it is at its weakest. The international community must not fear the regime and should pursue justice.
“It is indeed a matter of the political will of the international community to pursue justice. We will see that the regime is unable to bully us and justice will be achieved. The regime shows their cowardice when they confront firm opponents.
“All the perpetrators of this crime will be held accountable in international courts.”
Tahar Boumedra, former head of the UN Advisory Mission for Iraq’s Human Rights Office
“The crime committed against political prisoners in 1988 has been well established and documented. The UN and relevant institutions have been informed and received documents on this issue.
“In 2018, the former human rights commissioner Zeid Hussein said the UN has informed the regime to investigate the crime. Two years later, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran is asking the same thing. We know the mullahs’ regime will not investigate. It is naïve to believe the mullahs would investigate themselves.
“Let’s warn the UN that enough is enough. The regime will not investigate its own crimes.
“Since 2015, at the launch of this campaign on the massacre of political prisoners, we have come a long way, and the UN is now very aware of what happened in the summer of 1988 in Iran. But there are facts that we should not ignore. The UN speaks with the voice of its members. We should not be expecting too much from the institutions of the UN as they stand today.
“I would like to say that we will not wait till coronavirus disappears to take action. The crime is already there. Everyone can see it. It must not leave room for impunity. Impunity has emboldened the Iranian authorities. They continue to commit crimes. It is time to think about a coalition of civil society and NGOs to lobby all together and make sure we find a way to take this crime to national courts across the world who accept universal jurisdiction. We can also lobby Member States of the UN Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC). It’s not impossible. We know that the NCRI and the MEK are capable of making the impossible possible.
“We will continue our work with the “Justice for Victims of 1988 Massacre in Iran” (JVMI) and seek the arrests and prosecution in any court that accepts international jurisdiction. But our ultimate goal is a trial in the ICC. I am Hazer (ready) for this task.”
Lincoln Bloomfield, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Military Affairs
“I have studied the allegations against MEK and NCRI, and they were not supported by credible evidence. I prepared an independent report and became very interested in the deeper story. The more I looked, the more I found, the true story of the MEK has been erased and misrepresented. They advocate democracy and freedom of speech,” said Lincoln Bloomfield, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Military Affairs.
Bloomfield gave an account of the history of regime-induced propaganda against the MEK and the falsehoods that the regime’s lobbyists have been disseminating against the Iranian opposition. He debunked allegations against the organization with facts he has investigated. Bloomfield has compiled several reports and books on the history of the MEK.
“In 2020, Western media and think tank reports still repeat allegations debunked by courts in Europe and the United States. Why do they continue to repeat these falsehoods? The reason is the same. Why do they want to discredit the MEK? To keep a weak and illegitimate regime in power.
“Today, many things have changed. The NCRI and MEK are safe. The international diaspora and dignitaries around the world know Madam Rajavi and the Resistance very well. They know about the regime’s crimes and tactics much better than the media and think tanks that publish these materials.
“The Resistance has consistently advocated free elections since 1979. The NCRI wants to return sovereignty to the people of Iran, not to seek power at any cost.
“Is there any other resistance group advocating universal values in Iran? Is there any other resistance group capable of organizing a virtual event with thousands of participants from around the world? The regime sees these events and knows that the NCRI and MEK are fully capable, more than anyone else, of organizing a peaceful transition of power after the mullahs’ fall.
“Today, the tides have turned. The Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi is facing trial in Belgium for trying to bomb the 2018 Free Iran rally. For those who are not aware, no member of the MEK or NCRI has been prosecuted of terrorism in a democratic country with an independent judiciary. The motives of reporters and journalists must be questioned. Are they on the regime’s payroll? Are their families threatened? Are they part of the regime’s 80/20 tactic? The journalists are trapped in the web of the regime’s propaganda tactics.
“The truth about this regime is available for the whole world to see in Ashraf 3. I am confident that the truth will come and when it does, it will set Iran free. Justice will be done and Iran will be free.”
Former Norwegian MP Lars Rise
“Over 60 UN resolutions have condemned human rights violations in Iran. Regime officials have not been punished for the crime they committed in 1988. The truth is Iran’s criminal rulers massacred those affiliated with the PMOI because the PMOI’s goals were popular in Iran.
“After the 1988 massacre they started telling the people they could not use the name of the organization or risk losing their lives. Then they tried to say the PMOI is not popular. They tried to repeat the lie again and again until it was believed. Unfortunately, our governments believe the propaganda and lies of the mullahs’ Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) to keep trade ties with the regime.
“Those who stand for truth and justice will prevail in the end. Tehran is using the Nazi philosophy and spreading propaganda across the world. It is important that the international community takes the 1988 massacre to international tribunals. The international community will wake up to see who is most hated and who is popular in Iran.”
Geoffrey Bindman, British solicitor specialising in human rights law and founder of the Bindmans LLP human rights law firm
“Regime officials must be sanctioned for their human rights violations. I believe that the United Kingdom and its allies in the EU and the UN have a duty and responsibility to make sure that the UN General Assembly that addresses the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses every year establishes a system to prosecute those who are responsible for serious human rights abuses in Iran.
“Among the relevant human rights abuses of the regime is the 1988 massacre which remains unpunished after 32 years, and the recent carnage in the 2019 protests, in which 1,500 people were killed. The regime continues to make a mockery of human rights standards and laws.
“It is my privilege to stand with you and your movement, the NCRI, and Madam Rajavi to hold the leaders of the regime to account.”
Former Palestinian Chief Justice Taisir al-Tamimi
“We are at the painful anniversary of the 1988 massacre. The people who were killed included more than 700 prisoners under the age of 18 and 62 pregnant women. One of the judges involved in the crime admitted that [regime founder Ruhollah] Khomeini had given a fatwa to kill all the prisoners.
“The mullahs’ regime tries to say 5,000 were killed. But the real number is 30,000. It committed this massacre to cover its own defeat. Its interests are placed over human values.
“Islam is only a cover for this regime. We need to prosecute these criminals in court. We must work together so this regime does not remain in power and the mullahs’ regime is eliminated. We will celebrate the end of this regime and the realization of the hopes of the people of Iran.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission Ken Blackwell
“We must expose this regime and their reign of terror with what we can. We must demand that the world court tries these criminals for their crimes against humanity. By supporting the people of Iran, we give humanity and freedom a fighting chance. We must be the points of light in the shadow of darkness. We must be agents of change, take the risks to be supporters that there be actions taken against this regime of darkness and terror. Let’s commit to being a force for change.”
Baroness Betty Boothroyd, former UK Speaker of the House of Commons
“What we demonstrate is that not even a pandemic can stop us from standing with the brave people of Iran and support their efforts for democratic change in Iran. Maryam Rajavi and her message of freedom makes the regime change to its core. Her ten-point plan provides a democratic alternative for future generations of Iran and gives women a chance to lead their country. This is what we’re fighting for.
“Free and democratic Iran is within reach. That is why I stand with you all, the people of Iran, the NCRI, and I call on my government to stand on the right side of history and recognize Maryam Rajavi and the NCRI and the true representative of the people of Iran.”
Italian Senator Lucio Malan
“Iran does not respect international laws and spreads terrorism. In the latest protests people were shouting, ‘Leave Syria, think about us.’ They don’t want their wealth spent on destabilizing activities outside Iran.
“There is no reason for the UN to lift the UN arms embargo on Iran. It is irresponsible to trust the regime to act responsibly if the arms embargo is lifted. The Iranian regime has cheated about the [2015 nuclear deal] Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) treaty and never told the truth about its nuclear program.
“Our European government should support the extension of the arms embargo. We must do this for international peace and security and to support the Iranian people in their struggle for freedom and democracy.”
Alan M. Dershowitz, Distinguished American Civil Liberty Lawyer
“The Iranian government is the most serious human rights violator on this planet. It should be the primary focus of every good person who cares about peace and human rights. Imagine what a nuclear armed Iran could do, not only in the Middle East, but around the world.
“We know that Iran will stop at absolutely nothing to preserve its illegitimate and undemocratic regime. I urge all the good people of the world to focus this attention on Iran today. This is a very important organization that brings attention to human rights in Iran more than any other organization.
“If you care about human dignity, human rights, civil life, join the current campaign against the regime in Iran. The world, the people of Iran need regime change. If you’re a supporter of human rights, you must be an opponent of the regime of Iran. History will show you are on the right side of history.”
Belgian MP Els Van Hoof
“The trial of [Iranian regime terrorists] will begin this year in Belgium. We hope justice will be served. Men and women are rotting in cells because they have a different opinion. This must not be tolerated in the 21st century.
“I wish you victory in your struggle for human rights in Iran.”
Canadian Senator Leo Housakas
“The Iranian people deserve to have democracy. The greatness of Iran is still ahead of us and we will achieve it with freedom and democracy. Nothing will hinder this movement, nothing will prevent the people of Iran to bask in freedom and Iran. The people of Iran deserve it.”