New audio tape sheds light on Iran’s 1988 mass executions
Newly released audio recordings of the late Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, the deputy of Iran’s then supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini, sheds light on the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
The release of the tape came one week after Iran executed 20 Sunni Kurds, drawing condemnation from international human rights organisations and highlighting a worrisome trend.
The state-sanctioned massacre that took place almost three decades ago followed an attack on Iran launched from Iraqi territory by the guerrilla group Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK).
The executed prisoners — estimated to total 4,500 by Amnesty International, although others put the number higher — were serving sentences in Iranian jails and had not been involved in the attack. Most were reportedly supporters of MEK.
Montazeri strongly objected to the mass executions and subsequently fell out with the regime.
Montazeri, who died in December 2009, wrote about his objections to the Khomeini-sanctioned killings in his autobiography but the audio file released August 9th by a website run by his family and followers in his memory showed greater condemnation of the act.
“In my view, the biggest crime in the Islamic Republic, for which the history will condemn us, has been committed at your hands and they’ll write your names as criminals in the history,” Montazeri was quoted as saying in the 40-minute recording.
Montazeri told his audience, which included the judge and prosecutors, to “feel some shame” during the month of Muharram, when Imam Hussain, Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, was killed. He rebuked them for taking time off work during the month only to return “suddenly engaging in such butchery”.
He said the prisoners had not engaged in any new activities and that their sentencing to death for no action of their own would tarnish “the entire judicial system”.
He said the executions, which included teenagers and a pregnant woman, were not undertaken in the heat of the moment but rather that the Ministry of Intelligence was waiting for an excuse, such as the MEK attack. The aim was to kill the dissidents, including those who only read MEK newspapers, publications and statements, he said.
As part of the conditions for being pardoned, the prisoners had to volunteer to walk in Iraqi mine fields, according to Montazeri, who was under house arrest from 1997 to 2003 and who had repeatedly accused the regime of imposing a dictatorship in the name of Islam.
To this day, many families are unaware of where their loved ones are buried because Iranian authorities dumped the bodies in unmarked mass graves. Many said they hope that there will be an inquiry into the executions following the release of Montazeri recording.
However, as the order was given through a fatwa from Khomeini that appears to be unlikely.
“Those who were involved in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners are still in power in Iran,” Madyar Samienejad, who monitors human rights in Iran from Norway, told the Guardian newspaper.
Indeed, almost coinciding with the anniversary of the 1988 massacre, Iran announced that it executed 20 “terrorists” responsible for killings and undermining national security.
The executions were slammed by Human Rights Watch (HRW) Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson, who called them “a shameful low point in its human rights record”. She added: “With at least 230 executions since January 1st, Iran is yet again the regional leader in executions.”
Lawyers who represented some of the men told HRW that their clients did not get a fair trial, adding that due process was violated. In many cases, revolutionary courts would find the suspects guilty of “enmity against God” or “spreading corruption on Earth”.
According to the Iran 2015/2016 report by Amnesty International: “Many trials, including some that resulted in death sentences, were grossly unfair.”
The accused “were coerced into writing or signing ‘confessions’… [and] judges routinely dismissed defendants’ allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in pre-trial detention without ordering investigations,” it added.