Until 2016, the Iranian regime had managed to maintain a red line: No talk, no tears and no questioning of what happened in Iranian prisons in the summer of 1988.
Ruhollah Khomeini, a priest who became supreme leader after the people of Iran overthrew the former monarchical dictatorship in 1979, ordered the elimination of members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization (PMOI / MEK) who were loyal to their faith.
In 1988, about 30,000 PMOI members were murdered and buried in mass graves, and the story was told to forget their names.
Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online.
The executions of the 1980s have been a never-ending wound deep in the Iranians’ conscience. Tens of thousands of families are still searching for closure. After years of bloody oppression, tears have left their eyes and anger has filled their hearts.
Iran’s leadership is involved in the slaughter
To obscure the 1988 massacre is linked to the regime’s survival: a “national security issue” if you will.
But in July 2016, Maryam Rajavi, the incoming president of Iran’s National Resistance Council, promised to launch a legal campaign against the perpetrators. Demonstrations and conferences were held, articles were written and media reports began to be published.
On August 9, 2016, around the 28th anniversary of the bloody summer, an audio file was posted on Ayatollah Montazer’s official website: Khomeini’s then-appointed successor.
In that file, posted by Ayatollah’s son Ahmad, Montazeri is heard protesting strongly against the massacres while talking to the Death Commission – a panel set up to determine which prisoners lived or died – in 1988. He accuses them of having committed the “most serious crime in the history of the Islamic Republic “.
The leaked file shocked the entire nation, and it eventually crushed the now supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s plans to appoint Ebrahim Raisi, his preferred candidate, as president in the 2017 election.
Raisi was a key member of the death commission, which ordered the killings. The nationwide outrage against Raisi was overwhelming, and he and Khamenei lost a battle that went far beyond a mere presidential ticket.
International bodies – and Swedish prosecutors – are starting to push for justice
In December 2018, after 30 years of investigations, Amnesty International announced its findings, calling the massacre an “ongoing crime against humanity”.
In December 2020, seven UN Special Rapporteurs revealed a letter they had written to the Iranian regime, stating that the 1988 massacre could be a “crime against humanity”.
On May 3, 2021, 152 former UN officials, Nobel laureates, former heads of state and human rights experts called for an international investigation into the killings. In just five years, the outcry went beyond Iran’s borders and gained international recognition. Tehran’s red line was crossed.
Hamid Nouri, deputy prosecutor during the mass executions, was arrested by Swedish police in November 2019.
According to many stories, he had beaten, tortured and referred political prisoners to the gallows in 1988 and even kicked the chairs under their feet when they were hanged.
After 18 months of investigation, the Swedish judiciary began Hamid Noury’s trial in August. It is ironic that a man who witnessed the fate of thousands of political prisoners is determined within minutes goes through a legal process that allows him to defend himself for months.
A turning point in the proceedings is the court’s recent decision to hold all its hearings for two weeks in Albania, where some of the survivors of the 1988 massacre, all PMOI / MEK members, live.
The judge announced the decision last week and said their testimony was crucial to the case.
Impunity continues at Stockholm District Court
Since day one of the trials, I have listened carefully and watched Hamid Nouri closely. I tried to find the slightest glimpse of humanity, a moment of remorse in his eyes or in his body language. But I failed.
When I studied law at the University of Tehran in the 1970s, one of our major subjects was criminology. When discussing “the motives or causes of crime”, we studied specific cases of criminals caught by the Iranian legal system.
One theory then suggested that some people suffering from genetic disorders were “naturally born criminals”. In time, the thesis was disputed, and the wisdom of life taught me that love is gifted, while hatred is taught.
But when I studied Hamid Noury’s character and saw his reactions in court, I began to doubt this knowledge. He shouted immediately, only when a plaintiff insulted Khomeini’s name.
Noury has praised the judges who were responsible for thousands of executions in 1988 and says he is proud of what they have done. He states that those who were tortured and hanged deserved it.
When two of the female plaintiffs talked about how their entire family had been eliminated, he raised his arms as if praying and shouting, “Thank God!”. He terrorizes the entire courtroom from the defendant’s place. He can still torture, regardless of his position.
Hamid Nouri is a third-class farmer in this regime. The role of Ebrahim Raisi, now Iran’s president, in the massacre has been widely publicized by the international public.
There are dozens of decision makers and hundreds of individuals who kicked the chair, raped and tortured or pressed the trigger during that time. These infantry have now become government officials.
Perpetrators will be held accountable
It is up to us to mobilize lawyers and lawyers in democratic countries to hold these criminals accountable. Based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, we have the right to – and we must – do whatever it takes to bring about justice.
We owe 30,000 souls who bravely looked the henchmen in the eye and said “no”. People deserve more than living on their knees.
At the end of the 20th century, a terrible crime was committed in Iran. Those responsible continue to ideologically torment the Middle East and blackmail the world over weapons of mass destruction.
As survivors of the regime’s repression that is still fighting it, we have been called by many names.
But like those who did not capitulate in 1988, we will not fear the regime’s slander. If we eventually fail to hold them accountable through the legal system of the free world, we will do so in a free Iran.
Dr Senabargh Zahedi is chairman of the Judiciary Committee of Iran’s National Resistance Council.